The concept of "well-being" has been much discussed among economists, psychologists, and sociologists. In connection with a major project on notions of well-being worldwide (in Richard Estes and Joseph Sirgy, ed., The History of Well-Being: A Global Perspective [forthcoming from Halloran Philanthropies]), Shawn Arthur and I have been commissioned to write a chapter on ideas about well-being in East Asia.
It has been challenging to find equivalent terms in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, but there are many traditional Chinese notions covering one or more aspects of well-being — though we haven't found any single term that is coterminous, so to speak, with the English expression "well-being". Be that as it may, the traditional Chinese terms that partially overlap with "well-being" have also been taken up in Sino-Japanese and Sino-Korean vocabulary. Here are just a few such Sinitic expressions: 安寧 ("peaceful"), 福利 ("welfare"), 平安 ("safe and sound"): C. ānníng, fúlì, píng'ān / J. annei, fukuri, heian / K. annyeong, bogli, pyeong-an. It would be easy to come up with a dozen or so additional relevant terms in the Sinitic vocabulary of East Asia.
The biggest surprise of all in our research, however, has been with what has happened to the notion of well-being in Korean. As I was searching for Korean equivalents, lo and behold, look what I found!
Google Translate and Bing Translator informed me that welbing 웰빙 means "wellness", but it seemed to look suspiciously like nothing else than, well, "well-being".
So I asked Bob Ramsey what was going on, and this was his reply:
Do you know―or are you asking because you DO know―that Koreans have gone nuts over that very imported word (웰빙) now? It’s everywhere you look in South Korea, and it covers all of their faddish food and exercise trends. Try googling the word and you’ll see!
All right, so now I really had to get to the bottom of this, to find out how Korean had leapt out of the circle of Sinitic vocabulary and concepts and entered directly into the realm of English vocabulary.
What is even more perplexing than the ubiquity of welbing 웰빙 in contemporary Korea is the fact that, when you look up "well-being" on the popular web portal Naver, this is what you get:
참살이: well-being. "This word is contained Newly-coined word of the National Institute of the Korean Language. (2004)"
Pronunciation for 참살이:
① cham-sa-ri RR
② ch'am-sa-ri MR
And this is what you'll get for 참살이 on Google Translate:
chamsal-i 참살이 Lifestyle
Now, this is strange. If you put ch'am-sa-ri 참살이 in the Google search engine, you'll get a measly 1,030,000 hits, but if you enter wel-bing 웰빙, you'll get a mind-boggling 6,380,000 hits.
We have this overwhelming disparity in favor of wel-bing 웰빙, despite the fact that, since 2004, the National Institute of the Korean Language has tried to replace frequently used loanwords with newly created Korean words.
Purification of the Korean Language
In order to remove incorrect loanwords, foreign languages, and Japanese words and to use correct Korean language, some campaigns to purify the Korean language have begun. The Campaign for Cleaning the Korean Language, one of the campaigns to purify the Korean language, began in July 2004.
The National Institute of the Korean Language opened a website for this campaign (www.malteo.net). Every week people choose a loanword or a foreign word which should be substituted for with a correct Korean word, and then suggest and decide on what the correct word should be on the webpage. All 150 loanwords and foreign words are to be corrected through this webpage by the beginning of October, 2007. Those words are being announced through mass media.
Comments from an anonymous colleague:
One of these "pure", new Korean words is chamsal-i / cham-sa-ri / ch'am-sa-ri 참살이. It is a "calque" or "loan translation" from English into Korean. "살이" is "living" but I'm surprised they did not use "잘" (chal MR) for "well". "참살이" does not appear in my large Korean-Korean dictionary and I rather doubt anyone would deliberately coin this term to mean "well being" since the first two syllables "참살" (without the suffix "이" indicating the nominal form of the verb) would be either 斩杀 (behead) or 惨杀 (kill gruesomely) in hanja (sorry, I can't type the full traditional characters here), which conflicts badly with the intended neologism. By contrast, "잘살다" does appear in the Korean dictionary with approximately that meaning ("to live amply, sufficiently, well-off"). But that doesn't entirely capture the English concept, certainly not as Maslow would see it.
Sung Shin Kim confirms the essential trajectory of what happened:
A brief search online seems to confirm how you described the process: from the translated word to the transliterated one. Chosun.com (09/07, 2004), reported that 참살이 was decided by the National Institute of the Korean Language as a translation of "well-being." What was particular, according to this report, was that the translation was not done by a few specialists, but picked after public consultation via a website (www.malteo.net). There were apparently 120 other propositions for the translation! Personally I have heard people and media/ads use "welbing," but not 참살이.
I suspect that "well-being" was already much in evidence in Korea before 2004 and that it was its growing popularity that prompted the language purifiers to come up with a "pure" Korean substitute, hence ch'am-sa-ri 참살이. But it obviously has not caught on, since wel-bing 웰빙 is surging forward, while ch'am-sa-ri 참살이 is getting left in the dust.
For those who are interested in the economic aspects of wel-bing 웰빙, the following article may prove useful:
Hagen Koo, "The Changing Faces of Inequality in South Korea in the Age of Globalization," Korean Studies, 31 (2007), 1-18, especially from page 10 where the author discusses "welbing". The article examines the effects of the recent economic crisis on social inequality and middle class culture. It is available through Project Muse here.
Daniel Sou provides a personal look at the coevolution of wel-bing 웰빙 and ch'am-sa-ri 참살이:
I'm not sure how the word "well-being" got translated (when and by whom), but yes many people in Korea are simply using wel-bing 웰빙 for well-being, and some use the word 참살이 (cham-sa-ri). But I bet more people are familiar with 웰빙 than 참살이. Even the news will use 웰빙 over 참살이.
As for the word 참살이, I believe it was the National Institute of Korean Language (http://www.korean.go.kr/eng/) that came up with the word 참살이 for well-being. This is an institute that provides guidelines for standard Korean and, thus, they were probably the first who announced that word. But there should be (no, must be) others who tried to translate well-being into Korean. Now, well, I believe almost everyone is using wel-bing 웰빙 for well-being.
When I first heard about 웰빙, I was staying in the States and I couldn't figure out what it meant until I read the article using the word 웰빙 and saw the matching English word (well-being). It is because 웰빙 is pronounced, as you mentioned, "well-bing" and not "well-bee-ing."
I guess, and this is a really wild guess, that Koreans might feel 참살이 (cham-sa-ri) sounds a bit "rusty" and "old-fashioned" while wel-bing 웰빙 sounds more "edgy" and "modern." Again this is a wild guess, but we can see numerous examples from Korean and Japanese where they simply used the sound of a Western word in order to make it seem a bit more edgy. I really don't think people aren't using the word 참살이 because the translation failed to deliver the English meaning.
Additionally, 참살이 is a Korean word without any Chinese characters. 참 (cham) means "pure," "real," and "good," and 살이 (sa-ri) means "life" or "living condition." Together it could either mean a morally or physically good life (or life style), or both. Personally, I believe this translation best fits the word "well-being."
One more tip. This was also criticized by some Koreans but the problem of all the attention devoted to "well-being" (it's huge!) is more focused on one's physical health, and only a few are using this word to talk about the "quality" of life, which I assume embraces a larger and broader discussion on people's cultural, moral, and spiritual life.
Ross King sums it all up succinctly:
웰빙 ("well-being") is definitely used everywhere all the time, and has been for many years now. The 참살이 sounds like another of the very many well-meaning but ultimately (and swiftly) doomed attempts at stopping the tide–I've never encountered it.
[Thanks to Bill Hannas and Haewon Cho]