utpeuda is Korean for funny but sad

utpeuda 웃프다: Funny but sad in Korean

Utpeuda (웃프다) is another of Korean’s many portmanteaus. It means “funny but sad,” and it’s a mix of utgida 웃기다 (to be funny) and seulpeuda 슬프다 (to be sad).

Utpeuda: Korean word for funny but sad

This is a pretty new word, and like many new Korean words, it comes, it seems, from the good ole World Wide Web. (Unfortunately I began writing this post a couple of weeks ago and now no longer remember where I got this piece of information. Cite as you write, kids!)

In fact, I think it’s kind of a theme in memes (a meme theme – hah hah hah).

man carrying three boxes
“Our Dad’s Backpack” became a popular utpeun meme in 2012.

One of the first appearances in the traditional media was from 2012, in its conjugated adjectival form utpeun 웃픈. This was in the Daejeon Ilbo‘s short piece on this photo, “Ur Appa eui baekpaek” (Our Dad’s Backpack, 울 아빠의 백팩), in which the writer notes that online, people have been commenting and saying the photo is an “utpeun sajin” (웃픈사진), or funny but sad photo. They actually define the word in the article as “웃기지만 슬픈,” “funny but sad,” – more evidence that it was a fairly new word, at least in mainstream society.

The “funny but sad” concept, I think, is a universal one, given the hours and hours of America’s Funniest Home Videos I watched as a kid – pretty sure many of these videos could be called utpeuda.

Pronunciation note: The secret lives of ㅅ

You may have noticed, if you read a little hangul, that in Korean this word has a ㅅ but I’ve written that as a t in English – 웃 vs ut – and you may have wondered why. After all, the letter/character ㅅ is usually written as s in English, and it usually makes a sound like the typical English s sound.

Well, ㅅ (the name of this character btw is siot or 시옷, pronounced kind of like people from my Southern hometown pronounce sh*t when they’re being really emotional) – anyway, ㅅ is a sneaky little bastard, leading at least a triple if not quadruple life. Here is a brief and unscientific overview.

The upstanding citizen (normal ㅅ pronunciation)

In most circumstances, as I said, ㅅ is pronounced like s in English – that is, before most vowels like a ㅏ, e ㅔ, ae ㅐ, eo ㅓ, o ㅗ, u ㅜ, and eu ㅡ. For example, in words like jjaksarang 짝사랑, solo 솔로, and sul-ddong 술똥, it’s pretty much just a straight-up s.

The peer-pressured ㅅ

Some particular vowels, however, change ㅅ, and instead of an s sound, it makes a sh sound. The most basic of these is before the vowel i ㅣ, for example in hwajangsil 화장실, which is really pronounced more like hwajang-shil.

ㅅ also sounds like sh before iotized (yotized) vowel. What is a yotized vowel, you ask? It’s basically a vowel that has a y sound at the beginning, so in Korean, that is ya 야, ye 예, yae 얘, yeo 여, yo 요, yu 유. (According to the Internet, yotization is also a thing in Russian vowels, I never knew.)

You can find this in words like one-shot 원샷 – appropriately romanized as won-syat and pronounced more like won-shyaht – and shower 샤워 – appropriately romanized as syawo and pronounced more like shyah-woh. These both happen to be words that come from English, but this pattern holds true in words from other sources as well.

The ending ㅅ

If it’s at the end of a word, the ㅅ takes on yet another sound. In these cases, it’s generally romanized as t – as at the end of one-shot/won-syat (원샷). However I wouldn’t say it’s actually pronounced like an English – it’s a little more – could you say, subtle? To quote that source of sources, Wikipedia, it’s a stop “with no audible release”  at the end of words – so it’s like you’re making the t sound at the end of, say, “hot,” with your tongue more or less in the same position, but you don’t actually make the sound or release the sound.

Well, phonology has never been my favorite part of linguistics.

The seen-but-not-heard ㅅ

There is one more sound ㅅ makes, or rather, doesn’t make. That’s at the end of a syllable and before a consonant. I can’t think of too many words like this. However, one rule of Korean spelling is that you add this ㅅ at the end of certain nouns when you’re combining them with certain other nouns to make compound words. So confusing, right?? So for example, if you want to combine gochu 고추, or red pepper, with garu 가루,  or powder, to make red pepper powder, you can’t just smush them together into gochugaru 고추가루. Instead, you have to add a ㅅ there and make it gochutgaru 고춧가루. You don’t exactly pronounce this ㅅ, but it does make the following ㄱ sound like a ㄲ…

(…which I am not even going to try to explain because for real y’all, just learning to hear and pronounce the double consonants was a great trial for me, and all the usual explanations like “stronger” or “emphasized” only confused me for years, until I met my now-spouse and he allowed me to babble to him until I got it right. “Tensed” is the best explanation in retrospect but it didn’t make sense until after I’d gotten it… But here is a decent video.)

That’s all for this week!

I ended up breaking for a few weeks instead of just one, and I’m trying to get back into the swing of things. Upcoming topics include 다문화, 엄친아, and I think some more word endings used to make nicknames/slurs like 술꾼 and 코쟁이! Thanks for reading 🙂

Romanization: I’ve used Revised Romanization here.


김태영. “울 아빠의 백팩 ‘웃기지만 슬픈 사진.'” 대전일보. 2012년7월9일. BIGKINDS. 2017년11월28일.

Google and Wikipedia

Personal experience//painfully acquired knowledge and skills

Text and some photos copyright Sara M-K.

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