Japanese Kanji-isms in Sino-Korean Words

Maeil Gyeongje - July 19, 1984

Example of a word with a “Kanji-ism” in print from the July 19, 1984 edition of the Maeil Gyeongje

Linguistic Purism is a sensitive and controversial topic in Korea. This is especially true with words with purported or actual Japanese origins. Japan ruled and colonized Korea for 35 years from 1910 to 1945. Many Koreans are understandably and justifiably resentful of that period in history. One expression of that resentment has been the attempt to excise Japanese words of the Korean vocabulary. Some of these attempts, however, have been questionable (see also this article). Others have been more legitimate.

There are a number of Sino-Korean words that originate from Japanese. This post will only cover those words that contain meanings particular to Japanese Kanji (日本式 漢字語, 일본식 한자어). For a lack of a better or succinct English term, this blogger has coined the term “Kanji-ism” to refer to such meanings. Words such as Ipgeum (入金, 입금), meaning “to make a deposit” (literally “to enter money”), while probably from Japanese, are not included because they make sense without importing a meaning particular to Kanji — and there does not seem to be any other way to make meaningful distinctions. Kanji-isms can be broken down into three categories: (1) prefixes (接頭辭, 접두사); (2) postfixes (接尾辭, 접미사); and (3) sinicized native-Japanese words (漢字化, 한자화). This list is based on ones found from Korean sources.


Prefixes appear before the stem of a word. Prefix Kanji-isms include: Ga (假, 가) meaning “temporary” or “provisional”; gong (空, 공) for “empty” or “null”; and saeng (生, 생) for “live.” The stem of the word itself might or might not have originated from Japanese.  Examples include the following. The word with the prefix Kanji-ism is on the left followed by the word with the prefix replaced and its English meaning. Some of the Kanji-ism words are still in use in Korean today.

  • Ga-jeopsu (假接受, 가접수) → Imshi jeopsu ( 臨時接受, 임시접수) (“Temporary receipt [of something]”)
  • Ga-cheobun (假處分,가처분) → Imshi Cheobun (臨時處分, 임시처분) (“Temporary disposition”)
  • Gong-supyo (空手票, 공수표) → Budo Supyo (不渡手票, 부도수표) (“Bounced check”)
  • Saeng-bangsong (生放送, 생방송) → Hyeonjang Bangsong (現場放送, 현장방송) (“Live broadcast”)


Postfixes appear after the stem of the word. Postfix Kanji-isms include: Seon (先, 선), Weon (元, 원), Gu (口, 구), all of which are used to refer to places; Gye (屆, 계), which refers to reports; and Go (高, 고), which refers to amount. Again, the stem of the word itself might or might not have originated from Japanese. Examples include the following. As with the examples above, the word with the postfix Kanji-ism is on the left followed by the word with the postfix replaced and its English meaning. Few of the Kanji-ism words are still in use in Korean today.

  • Georae-seon (去來先, 거래선) → Georae-cheo (去來處, 거래처) (“Client” or “customer”)
  • Jejo-weon (製造元, 제조원) → Jejo Hoesa (製造會社, 제조회사) (“Manufacturer”)
  • Maepyo-gu (賣票口, 매표구) → Maepyo-so (賣票所, 매표소) (“Ticket booth”)
  • Gyeolseok-gye (缺席屆, 결석계) →  Gyeolseok Shin’goseo (缺席申告書, 결석신고서) (“Absence notice”)
  • Suhwak-go (收穫高, 수확고) → Suhwak-ryang (收穫量, 수확량) (“Crop yield”)

Sinicized Native Japanese Words

A Japanese Kanji character can be read in two different ways: onyomi (音読み), the readings based on Chinese pronunciation; and kunyomi (訓読み), the native Japanese readings. For instance, for the character 無(무) meaning “to not have,” the onyomi readings are bu (ぶ) and mu (む), and the kunyomi reading is nai (ない). Thus, merely because a Japanese word is written in Kanji, that does not make the word a Sino-Japanese word: it could still be a native Japanese word. When these words were imported into Korean, they were “sinicized” (漢字化, 한자화) and spelled using Korean Hanja pronunciations. Examples include the following. Some of these words might vaguely make sense without taking into consideration of Kanji-isms. Many sinicized native Japanese words are used in Korean today.

  • Waribiku (割り引く) → Hal’in (割引, 할인) (Literally “to cut and pull”, means “to discount”)
  • Kumitateru (組み立てる) → Jorip (組立, 조립) (Literally “to weave and create”, means  “to assemble”)
  • Toritsukau (取り扱う) → Chwigeup (取扱, 취급) (Literally “to take and handle,” means “to handle [something]”)
  • Kozutsumi (小包) → Sopo (小包, 소포) (Literally “small wrap,” means “package”)
  • Funatsukiba (船着場) → Seonchakjang (船着場, 선착장) (Literally “Ship-attaching yard,” means “Wharf”)

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