Visual puns in K-pop, part 2

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Three days ago, we saw how the group named Apink wrote the Korean phrase “eung-eung 응응” (“yes”, “okay”, or “uh huh”) as %% for the title of their hit single:  "Visual puns in K-pop" (1/10/19).

Now comes another famous K-pop song called "T T" (Roman letter T):

When Koreans text, They often use "ㅜㅜ" or "ㅠㅠ" to express sadness, grief, sighing, and so forth (the shapes of those Hangul letters symbolize tears!). For example, you might just type "ㅜㅠㅜㅠㅜㅜㅠㅜㅠㅜ" and the other person would immediately know that you're feeling sad.

Although the sequences of those Hangul letters could be vocalized as uu, yuyu, and uyuuyuuuyuuyuu the sounds are not taken into consideration, and they don't represent any Korean words. "ㅜㅜ", "ㅠㅠ", and "ㅜㅠㅜㅠㅜㅜㅠㅜㅠㅜ" work only at the visual, symbolic level to represent tears and all that tears convey.

The chorus of the song above says "I’m like TT, just like TT". Although Koreans do not read "ㅜ" as the Roman letter T, this is also a clever visual pun in Korean, since "ㅜ" looks like the Roman letter T!

Now, to summarize and for a little lesson in Hangul, hopefully to ensure that I haven't confused my readers, "ㅠ" does not have any verbal semantic meaning itself. Koreans just use these Hangul letters in text to express sadness, sorrow, and so on. Because Koreans use "ㅠ" in text so much, just seeing them written that way evokes a feeling of sadness. The more one writes "ㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠㅠ", the greater sadness

As for the pronunciation of "ㅠ" in Korean writing, it is equal to "u". Hence:

유 = u
규 = gyu
뉴 = nyu

Similarly for "ㅜ" as a visual pun, by itself this symbol is not intended to carry a meaning. Koreans simply use it to express sadness because of the way it looks.

The pronunciation of "ㅜ" as a Hangul letter is "wu".  Thus:

우 = wu
구= gwu
누= nu

I'm beginning to think that Koreans excel at all sorts of visual and phonic puns and symbolism.  As we have learned recently, they can even understand the sounds a refrigerator makes.

Selected readings

[Thanks to Irene Do]


  1. Laura Morland said,

    January 13, 2019 @ 6:40 pm

    Yes, a clever pun, but oooh, the misogyny behind the cultural idealization of these doll-like girls!

    I couldn't bear to watch more than about 40 seconds of this saccharine video. Give me "Gangnam Style" (even with its light sexism) any day.

  2. Rick Rubenstein said,

    January 13, 2019 @ 7:15 pm

    Those kids sure are spooked up!

  3. Aaron said,

    January 13, 2019 @ 8:36 pm

    English speakers/texters also use TT or T_T to represent crying sometimes! I'm not sure if it's related to the Korean usage or if they're independent inventions.

    People use QQ to represent crying eyes too. I especially see this in gaming contexts, where the originally text-based QQ is also a spoken word /kju kju/, either as a noun "complaining, bellyaching, getting upset over something trivial" (e.g. "There's been too much /kju kju/ about recent changes to the game") or a verb "to complain" (e.g. "Players are always /kju kju/ing over something or other").

  4. Victor Mair said,

    January 13, 2019 @ 8:53 pm

    On "QQ", see:

    "Q-TAXI" (10/8/18)

    "Is Q a Chinese Character?" (4/15/10)

    "A New Morpheme in Mandarin"

  5. MT Welles said,

    January 13, 2019 @ 8:55 pm

    The symbol ㅠ is used as a vowel, but only in combination with the null consonant ㅇ, so 유 is how Koreans write 'yu'. People seeㅠ as a vowel symbol, but without the ㅇ it has no phonetic meaning, so it is easier to read it as TT.

    For puns that are more visual, see the video for the song 웜홀, officially called "Warm Hole" but the Korean could also be read as "worm hole". In the video, there are visual references to worm holes (in an apple), the spacetime wormhole (in a diagram), and warm hole (where one woman sees a hole in the back of a laundromat dryer as a portal…not to mention the sexual references in the song.

  6. Ethan said,

    January 14, 2019 @ 12:58 am

    Given the framing visuals, is there an intentional connection between "TT" and "Trick or Treat"?

  7. Till said,

    January 14, 2019 @ 9:30 am

    The claim that ㅠ does not have a meaning of its own is only partially right. Of course, vowels in Korean (i.e., all T- or I-shaped characters, however rotated, and possibly containing double T stem strokes) do not stand on their own. But the very same grapheme, completed by a silent ㅇ in front to form a grammatical syllable, does have a meaning. And this is where you might consider Koreans philosophical: Their emoticon for tears of sadness pouring out of your (narrow Asian — is that racist, by the way?) eyes, even though etymologically unrelated, means "existence". How sad. ㅠㅠ

    By the way, there are a lot of sound-based chat conventions as well. For instance ㅎㅎ or ㅋㅋ. Which read "h h" or "k k" and both express laughter, in a way. Korean style, that is. Why not use your characters if you have them? I would not hesitate to indicate some Tetris gameplay by a 한글 character set.

  8. Kate Gladstone said,

    January 14, 2019 @ 11:13 am

    “As for the pronunciation of ‘ㅠ"’in Korean writing, it is equal to ‘u’.”
    No, to “yu” — IPA /ju:/ — I know Hangeul.

  9. B.Ma said,

    January 15, 2019 @ 11:32 am

    @Kate Gladstone:

    Do you not pronounce "u" as /ju:/?

  10. jd said,

    January 17, 2019 @ 4:45 am

    visual pun? hm? oh that!… a little more focused on the "nonverbal communication"…

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