Korean refrigerator onomatopoeia

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From a tweet by Claire Varley:


Since the refrigerator was made by LG, these transcriptions must be what refrigerator talk sounds like to a Korean.

People who are good with machines really can hear these subtle differences and make accurate diagnoses based on them. My brother Joe, who has had a symbiotic relationship with a succession of vans that he has driven millions of miles all over the country for more than forty years, can usually figure out what's wrong with a car just by turning it on and intently listening to it for awhile. I'm not sure, though, if the average housewife would be able to distinguish between "deureureuk~" and "kureureuk", much less all the other subtle sounds spoken by a Korean refrigerator.

[h.t. Ben Zimmer]


  1. Jonathan Smith said,

    November 10, 2018 @ 5:23 pm

    This is nice. Online at https://www.scribd.com/document/34144487/GR-P247CNPV-AAVQEAG, p. 76. Re: deureureuk vs. kureureuk, etc., there are of course degrees of conventionalization to onomatopoetic and more generally expressive vocabulary (in which Korean is rich), so these are presumably (?) more meaningful to native speakers.

  2. Alyssa said,

    November 10, 2018 @ 6:59 pm

    Interesting! "Tak" "Took" "Shoo~" and "Shik" work quite well for me, but "Keureureuk" for the sound of water flowing seems completely out of left field.

  3. Bathrobe said,

    November 10, 2018 @ 7:29 pm

    "Keureureuk" for the sound of water flowing seems completely out of left field.

    Glug glug?

  4. Victor Mair said,

    November 10, 2018 @ 8:14 pm

    My Korean friends say that they can "understand" what all of these sounds mean with regard to their refrigerators.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    November 10, 2018 @ 8:16 pm

    Bathrobe's "glug glug" for "Keureureuk" is good. Before I read it, I had already thought of "gurgle".

  6. Jenny Chu said,

    November 10, 2018 @ 8:58 pm

    I remember some years back comparing sound effects with my Korean students (around 11-15 years old). The one that sticks in my mind was the sound they proposed for when a racing car strikes the side of the track: instead of my suggestion, "CRASH!" they preferred "KWONGG!"

  7. mollymooly said,

    November 10, 2018 @ 9:57 pm

    Please tell me the online version of the manual has sound files of the noises

  8. Victor Mair said,

    November 10, 2018 @ 10:51 pm

    From Shelley Shim:

    I have heard of the other sounds but "kureureuk" is a first for me…especially for describing the sound of water. I think I normally use that word to describe the rumbling sound my stomach makes when I'm hungry. But that also sounds more like "ggoreureuk"…

    I will see if anyone around me has heard of "kureureuk", but with regards to the other sounds they all seem to make sense to me. There seems to be so many different ways of expressing sounds in Korean, but they all make sense because we hear them sometime or another in our lives. I think different districts have different ways of expressing the same sounds, just as how the accents differ, but there always is a kind of "standard" for expressing certain sounds.

  9. Victor Mair said,

    November 11, 2018 @ 12:33 am

    From Hector Sanchez:

    Deureureuk is just great! It kind of reminds me of 쨍그랑 (tchaenggŭrang or jjaenggeurang,) the onomatopoeic expression for the sound of something breaking (like a dish or a vase.)

  10. Christopher Barts said,

    November 11, 2018 @ 11:55 pm

    Here's a short film named "Aaarrgh" by Tanya Weinberger where chins are in a spelling bee where they spell onomatopoeia


  11. Michael Vnuk said,

    November 12, 2018 @ 7:25 am

    I'm finding it hard to imagine what the sound of 'keureureuk' is, but it is glossed as 'sound of water flowing', so I'm imagining water in a pipe or water coming out of a tap, ie fairly unimpeded. Whereas, to me, 'glug glug' suggests flowing liquid, but either a thick liquid (such as sauce), or a liquid that is not coming out of a bottle easily because the bottle has been held vertically upside down. 'Gurgle' also suggests some sort of restricted flow to me, such as water going down a plughole. (I note that babies are said to gurgle.)

  12. Andreas Johansson said,

    November 12, 2018 @ 7:43 am

    What does the tilde at the end of "Deureureuk~" and" "Shoo~" signify?

    And why are the onomatopoeia capitalized?

  13. speedwell said,

    November 12, 2018 @ 7:53 am

    "Kureureuk" really DOES sound like the noise the icemaker makes as it fills. My little brother used to say, when he was seven or eight, "the icemaker is peeing again", which is also weirdly apt.

  14. KeithB said,

    November 12, 2018 @ 11:00 am

    Yes, the "K" is a good approximation of the solenoid valve turning on and off.

  15. scott bower said,

    November 12, 2018 @ 3:50 pm

    Hehe. I have a friend that worked on patents years ago for a major manufacturer where they uses auditory sensors to monitor the harmonics of machines (assembly floor etc) that would map to state assessments triggering alerts to humans when things were out of whack.

    They say they can do this computationally replacing a stethoscope, people are working on it, but nothing replaces or will replace humans making the calls especially since doctors cannot explain what they here when they are listening to you breath. ;)

  16. 번하드 said,

    November 12, 2018 @ 5:11 pm

    Oh, wonderful, this post really made my day, thank you!
    In my language learning experience so far, Korean really stands out for its richness when it comes to onomatopoeia.
    One thing I've only seen in Korean is what I call onomatopoeic isotopes.
    Many o10a come in two, three, maybe up to five(!) variants, depending on things like size/weight/hardness of the object/subject(s) causing the sound.

  17. melboiko said,

    November 13, 2018 @ 10:01 am

    @Andreas Johansson: That would be the iconic use of the tilde/wave dash. Imagine the vowel sound being extended in a wavy, oscillating manner.

  18. Victor Mair said,

    November 13, 2018 @ 12:11 pm

    From Irene Do:

    Seattle: 시애틀 (siaeteul)
    San Francisco: 샌프란시스코 (saenpeuransiseuko)
    Atlanta: 아틀란타 (ateullanta)
    New York: 뉴욕 (nyuyok)
    Cleveland: 클리블랜드 (keullibeullaendeu)

    I also want to share an interesting story regarding how Korean people say McDonalds and cappuccino in Korea.
    McDonalds: 맥도날드 (maekdonaldeu)
    Cappuccino: 카푸치노 (kapuchino)

    To me, Korean pronunciation of McDonalds sounds like reading it in the following way – Mc-Do-nal-ds
    My friend (who can't speak English very well) asked where "maekdonaldeu" is in the US, and people could not understand her at all!
    The same happened for the word cappuccino. My friend asked for a cup of cappuccino in Starbucks but no one seemed to understand.
    She asked me if they are pretending not to understand, or if they sincerely do not understand (when the pronunciation are so similar!)

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