Siri in Korea

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"The bizarre political scandal that just led to the impeachment of South Korea's president" (Jennifer Williams, Vox, 3/9/17)

Protestors wearing masks of South Korean President Park Geun-Hye (R) and her confidante Choi Soon-Sil (L) pose for a performance during a rally denouncing a scandal over President Park's aide in Seoul on October 27, 2016. JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images

President Park is officially out.  The decision was made last night (10 AM in Korea), and Korea will have a new president in 60 days.

"South Korea Removes President Park Geun-hye" (Choe Sang-hun, NYT, 3/9/17)

But how to explain those signs in the photograph?

순 siri (sun siri): 순 siri is the nickname of 최순실 Choi Soon-sil (romanization: Choe Sunsil). It stems from the fact that Former (!) President Park frequently consulted with Choi about almost everything, so Choi was like Apple's Siri to Park.

The "Soon-sil" -> "Soon-siri" joke was discussed here: "Cheeky new game apps in South Korea parody president Park and her Rasputin-like confidante" (Christy Choi, Vox, 11/3/16)

ㄹ혜 (l hye): Former President Park's full name is 박근혜 Park Guen-hye (romanization: Bag Geunhye).  ㄹ(l), one of the Korean consonants, looks similar to 근 (guen) in her first name, and is often used to replace 근 for making a pun.

Considering the current tensions on the Korean Peninsula, this isn't a joke and it isn't a game.  It couldn't have come at a worse time for South Korea.

[Thanks to Ben Zimmer and Haewon Cho]


  1. KWillets said,

    March 10, 2017 @ 7:55 pm

    닭 근혜 — (dalk (chicken) geun-hye) is also popular. It's poultry, since it rhymes.

  2. jick said,

    March 10, 2017 @ 11:27 pm

    > It couldn't have come at a worse time for South Korea.

    That's one way to look at it. Another way is to recognize that Park's erratic foreign policy is what brought us to this mess in the first place. (A lot of Koreans are skeptical about the necessity of the missile defense system (THAAD), although few would think China's overreaction is justified.) One day she's joining Xi watching a military parade at Beijing, another day she introduces THAAD.

    As the saying goes, the best time to oust her was before she became a president. The second best time is now.

  3. wjt said,

    March 11, 2017 @ 3:45 am

    The image URL is broken, but if you click through the first link, the photograph under discussion is right there.

  4. John said,

    March 11, 2017 @ 5:22 am

    I don't understand the ㄹ혜. It's "often used to replace 근 for making a pun" but what is the pun here?

  5. Jichang Lulu said,

    March 11, 2017 @ 11:52 am

    Take anything I say about Korean with a gwan 관 貫 of salt, but I suspect one reason the Sun Siri 순시리/순siri pun can work particularly well is that it's homophonous with 순실이 Sunsil-i, i.e. the name Sun-sil with the -i suffix, added to given names (ending in a consonant) in an informal register (such as perhaps the former president could use to talk about her (younger) friend Choi in an informal setting). I think the following could be an example of the familiar name suffix:

    순실이는 프라다를 신는다 'Sun-sil wears Prada' (an allusion to a lost-shoe incident explained in English here.

    If the first string was spelt 순시리 or 순siri, the same sentence could mean 'Sun Siri wears Prada'.

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