My partner and I live in a student-y area of a college town, so every now and then we’ll hear a bunch of kids outside chanting, in the classic style, “Chug! Chug! Chug!”
This is a thing in Korea, too – not only among students but also at work dinners, class reunions, parent-teacher events, and basically any social occasion that involves both alcohol and hierarchy.
So basically, every social occasion.
One-shot: Raising your glass in Korea
The word used, though, is not chug (or “bottoms up,” a more refined English equivalent), and it’s not chanted that way. Instead, at a dinner say, some dude (usually a dude, and usually one with some kind of importance in the group) says (or shouts) “one-shot!” and raises his glass of beer, soju, or poktanju. This often happens right after a speech or something. At the shout of “one-shot,” everyone drains their glass.
Later on in the night, once the outing has …degraded… and folks are pretty ….wasted, one-shot is used in a lot of one-on-one interactions between people who are on more equal footing – e.g., a new person to the group might go around and do a one-shots with different people, or someone you’re having a conversation with might suggest a one-shot to punctuate the interaction.
These are the sort of contexts in which you usually hear one-shot in action, but you can also use it to describe how you drank something, e.g., Jongsu drank the beer in one shot, i.e., Jongsu chugged the beer: 종수가 맥주를 원샷으로 마셨다.
To show how widespread the one-shot is, I once worked at an elementary school owned by a larger company where the annual Christmas party included one-shot competitions: Employees would race to chug 500cc glasses of beer on stage. The top performers from each gender and branch chugged two more in the final round. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of this because it happened in the Dark Ages, before smartphones, i.e., 2007-2009ish…
Another time, I went out for samgyeopsal (grilled pork belly) with a group of parents and teachers of the sixth graders at our school. They had just won the parent-teacher volleyball tournament, and as part of the celebration, we went around the circle chugging an entire 500-640 mL (16-20 oz) bottle of Cass from the bowl-shaped top of the trophy. More than once. With some of our fourth grade students peeking in from the restaurant’s next room. #WhenInRome
And PSY, of “Gangnam Style” fame – who I’ve learned during my research is quite the one-shot champion – can be seen doing a number of one-shots with Snoop Dogg in the music video for “Hangover”:
The origin of one-shot in Korea
I’m not sure when exactly one-shot first came to be used this way in Korea. It’s Konglish – we don’t use it this way in English – and after all, it’s really not something you’d see in writing, except maybe in some novels, so it’s kind of hard to trace. And official Korean dictionaries seem to be a lot slower than, say, the OED to add slang/new words. (Unless I don’t know where to look – if you know please tell me!)
The first time it appears in KINDS, a newspaper database, is in a 1986 article in the international economy section. The second time is in a 1992 article on fairness in broadcast coverage of that year’s presidential election, in which it’s referring to instances in which a candidate is the only person on a TV screen; it’s used in a few subsequent articles on this topic as well.
The first instance in which it seems to be referring to drinking is in a January 1994 article about the “extreme low quality” of broadcast language (lol). One complaint is that the movie “Sopyonje” was broadcast complete with “unethical” (비윤리적인) scenes and speech, including a son making a toast to his father with the words, “Father, one-shot.”
Yeah uh this doesn’t sound horrifyingly unethical to me either, but typically the only person entitled to initiate a one-shot in a situation with this sort of power imbalance is the more powerful one, thus it’s kind of majorly unfilial for the son to do this, from a more conservative Korean perspective. At least that’s my interpretation.
Related Korean drinking terms
One-shot is one of many Korean words used specifically in the drinking culture. Here are a few (of many) more:
Love-shot 러브샷: From, clearly, English. This is when two people link arms and drink from their own glass, generally in a one-shot form. You can see a much younger version of myself doing a love-shot with a then-colleague (whose face I hope is obscured enough to post this?) here.
Keonbae 건배: From Chinese 乾杯. Same characters, and actually, almost the same sounds. This means the same as one-shot: Drain those glasses! This is probably actually more commonly used by “big bosses” in work-type social situations than one-shot.
Chukbae 축배: From Chinese 祝杯. More literally, “cheers” – done in congratulations, and you don’t have to drain the glass.
A note on romanization: As usual, I use English for clearly English-derived words, and per my new policy, I use Revised Romanization for other words.
變動換率 충실 운용. 전북일보. 1986-10-02. KINDS. Accessed 2017-09-26.
박근애. 편파적 화면편성·시간배분 여전/선감련 방송보도 모니터보고서 내용. 한겨레. 1992-11-05. KINDS. Accessed 2017-09-27.
All content, aside from linked videos/GIFs, copyright Sara McAdory-Kim. I guess technically that photo of me is copyright to whomever took it, thanks mystery person, most likely D.K.? Featured image altered from a CC0 image.