k’k’ ㅋㅋ and Korean chatspeak

k’k’ (ㅋㅋ) is the lol of Korean, the standard expression of laughter or amusement in chatspeak. It’s pronounced like you’re making the English k sound twice (or for as many ㅋs as there are, because of course, if something’s really funny you’ll use more)…and in fact, I know people who actually laugh like this in real life, a real chicken-or-egg problem. In English orthography, it’s usually expressed with a series of k’s, as in kkkkkk. (ㅋ is represented by the letter k in the Revised Romanization system.)

Nicholas Harkness (2015) notes that a “digitally mediated slang” has arisen in Korea with the ubiquity of texting, messaging apps like KakaoTalk and similar channels of communication. ㅋㅋ is one of these; here are a few more Korean chatspeak standards:

hh ㅎㅎ

hh (ㅎㅎ) is another expression of laughter in Korean, but at least to me, it has a little different feeling to k’k’—a little more hesitant or subdued, and sometimes used, the way lol can be, to indicate some kind of feeling about the message you’re sending. What feeling? It’s hard to say, but in my experience metalinguistic information like hesitance or uncertainty is often part of it. When I discussed it with my husband, a native Korean speaker, he said you might use it as a less enthusiastic replacement for ㅋㅋ, but also in reply to a boss’s sexist joke or something corny said in a group chat, as a kind of awkward laugh when social constraints demand a laugh of some kind.

yu-yu (ㅠㅠ)

This is an expression of crying, as the horizontal part of the letter ㅠ (pronounced like “you”) is meant to be the eyes, and the vertical parts the tears. I guess this is kind of an emoticon (my favorite emoticon in any language!), but it’s made with letters only, so I’m including it here. Also used is u-u (ㅜㅜ).

This graphic compares how young people talk with their friends and with their parents. Source.
This graphic compares how young people communicate on messenger with their friends and with their parents (or something). Source.

ng-ng ㅇㅇ

I first saw this expression early in my relationship with my now-husband. Although we speak English most of the time now, we started out chatting mostly in Korean, and I thought this was two wide eyes, like an expression of surprise. Fortunately, I had a fluent Korean-speaking Canadian coworker who straightened me out before I got too weirded out by apparent inappropriate surprise at casual questions like “Do you want to grab a beer?”

What ㅇㅇ actually means is “yep!” or “okay!” As you may know, Korean has different levels of speech that depend on the situation of formality and the age and power relations between two people. In panmal, which is used in informal situations between people who are close like high school buddies, or by people of higher status to people of lower status like oppa to tongsaengŭng (응) means yesit’s pronounced kind of like a nasaly “uh” or “unh.” ㅇㅇ is an abbreviated form of 응응, a casual way to say yep between friends.

[instagram url=https://www.instagram.com/p/BJx1VBHgB4u/]

ch’-k’-ch’-k ㅊㅋㅊㅋ

ㅊㅋㅊㅋ stands for ch’ukha-ch’ukha (축하축하), which is a form of ch’ukha hada (축하하다), which means “congratulations.” If your friend or classmate informs you on facebook that they’re getting married or graduating from college or starting a new job, you’d send them a ㅊㅋㅊㅋ. The ㅋ represents the ㄱ+ㅎ sounds coming together.

ng-k’-t-k’ ㅇㅋㄷㅋ

ㅇㅋㄷㅋ is “okey dokey,” which is obviously borrowed from English. In this case, the ㅇ represents the English o that it resembles, but since ㅇ can also represent “yes” in Korean chatspeak, as in ㅇㅇ, there’s a lot of yes-ness there. My father-in-law, who speaks English well and spent close to 10 years in the States, uses it a lot.

ng-k’ ㅇㅋ

ㅇㅋ means OK. It’s much more commonly used than ㅇㅋㄷㅋ and is also from English, but again with the ㅇ kind of playing a role.


Harkness, Nicholas (2015). Linguistic emblems of South Korean Society. Korean Language in Culture and Society. ed. Ho-min Sohn. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 492-508.

My husband, the resident informant.

Personal experience.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.