"C’est carré comme en Corée" / It's square like in Korea

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Article by Clara Cini in Le Monde (4/27/22):

« C’est carré comme en Corée », de la fascination des rappeurs pour la dictature au tic langagier

"It's square like in Korea", from the fascination of rappers for the dictatorship to the language tic

[The above French to English translation is from Google Translate.  Since the entire article is in French, I will provide selected English translations done by Google Translate, with minimal editing by me.]



The expression from rap referred to the North Korean regime. Decontextualized, devoid of its “from the North”, it has lost its meaning and is now used mechanically.

History of an expression.

"And, as a bonus, with the Greens it's square like in Korea": this is how the editor-in-chief of the monthly Lyon Capitale, Guillaume Lamy, concludes a paragraph of his March 14 editorial. Such a comparison is surprising: what is Korea doing in Lyon?

Disconcertingly, the expression “it’s square like in Korea” has been spreading steadily for five years. It is encountered more and more frequently during familiar exchanges, starting with the conversations of the youngest speakers, where it is similar to a mark of friendly and relaxed approval, synonymous with an "agreement" or concise “ok”: “See you at 4 p.m.? – It’s square like in Korea”; "I'll join you later. – It’s square like in Korea. »

A prolific adjective

Let's get back to the root of this mysterious "square". On its own, the adjective has many meanings. Beyond its generic and geometric meaning, many figurative meanings appeared from the 19th century, allowing the formation of multiple expressions. The painter and art critic Etienne-Jean Delécluze thus evokes in his Journal of 1824 -1828, "square heads", that is to say people whose judgment is coherent. As summarized by linguistics professor Jean-Pierre Goudaillier, "this is one of the most prolific adjectives for the slang language".

The contemporary exchanges of the youngest, however, testify to a novelty: the alliance of the presentative “it is” and the polysemous adjective “square” which positively describes a situation, or acquiesces to a statement: “Shall we eat together tomorrow? – It's square. One thinks of other expressions such as “it’s clean” and its French counterpart “it’s clean”, already a little outdated, which work in a similar way. "Expressions that say the high degree of adhesion have a low semantic content and above all inform about the speaker's involvement", explains linguist Julie Neveux. These formulas, said in passing and bordering on the tic of language, are constantly metamorphosed under the yoke of a programmed linguistic obsolescence: "They wear out and renew themselves all the more quickly as they aim for maximum intensity, as their use, as soon as it spreads, weakens”, adds the linguist.

"We should make one like Korea, all in sync like a choreography", sang the rapper Rohff in 2001

However, what is surprising in this expression is that this banal “it’s square” has recently been joined by a funny comparison, “Korea”, implied from the North. The earliest occurrences of this formulation are found in rap tracks. Since the early 2000s, North Korea has been a source of fascination for French rap. In 2001, in his piece Rap Info, Rohff cites her as a model: “We should make one like Korea, all synchronized like a choreo. The phenomenon is accentuated and reaches its peak towards the end of the 2010s. Maître Gims sprinkles his songs with references to North Korea, going so far as to dedicate one of his titles to the former dictator Kim Jong-iI (1941-2011) in 2013. Military discipline, a subversive force opposed to the United States, the fantasy of a uniting community… all these elements are praised with the aim of offending by overthrowing agreed values ​​and transforming this authoritarian state into a an inspiring role model.

It is the rapper Heuss l’Enfoiré who forged this disturbing expression in 2018 in his title L’enfoiré, where we hear for the first time: “Everything is square like the North of Korea. “What becomes his leitmotif will soon be taken up by other rappers such as Koffi Lossa, Moha La Squale, who chants “it’s square” in most of his songs, or finally Naps with his piece It’s square in 2021.


The expression then extricated itself from its original cradle, rap, to spread first in the conversations of followers of this music. Decontextualized, the reference to North Korea loses its meaning, the formula becomes a linguistic reflex and is soon used mechanically, which produces a gap between those who no longer perceive the referential issue and those who are shocked that this dictatorship becomes a positive reference.

This reversal allowed by rap illustrates the very functioning of fixed expressions in the French language, as Julie Neveux explains: "Thus we say 'it's the Bérézina' to say a disaster, whereas historically it was [against the Russian army in 1812] and that the reality was much more complex. Analogies suppress differences, freeze knowledge into clichés, and language ignores reality. »

Therefore, if the formula "it's square like in Korea" is used without consciously referring to the country evoked and if its meaning declines, how can its popularity be explained? Let us think here of the expressions “cool Raoul” or “at ease Blaise”: in the same way as the expression which interests us, the pleasure of the utterance seems to prevail over the meaning. The French language is thus eager for these poetic-playful and collected formulas which offer a rhyming and rhythmic concentration, and this new “it’s square as in Korea” seems to please it.

"Hip to Be Square" — Huey Lewis and the News


Selected readings

[mostly on decontextualization — just a small sampling of what's available]

[Thanks to Don Keyser]


  1. Dara Connolly said,

    April 30, 2022 @ 4:11 pm

    One pitfall of machine translation is translating quoted text that should be left in the original, resulting in oddities like:
    expressions such as “it’s clean” and its French counterpart “it’s clean”
    Let us think here of the expressions “cool Raoul” or “at ease Blaise”

  2. Philip Taylor said,

    April 30, 2022 @ 4:56 pm

    "from the fascination of rappers for the dictatorship to the language tic". I'm not at all clear what this fragment is intended to convey, but in particular what is meant by "the language tic". What is a "language tic" ?

  3. Laura Morland said,

    April 30, 2022 @ 5:48 pm

    Funny to be living in Paris and discover the latest slang through a Google-translated document on Language Log!

    I'll have to try out « C’est carré comme en Corée » with my French friends, just to test their responses. Like me, they are all "north of 45" (many well north) and I doubt whether they'll be au courant… unless the phrase has popped up in TV shows such as Arsène Lupin, which has a huge following.

  4. David C. said,

    April 30, 2022 @ 7:56 pm

    I first read the post thinking only the first part was from Google Translate, not realizing that so was the rest of the post. French journalistic prose has its own particular style and it is somewhat jarring to read when rendered in English alongside a sprinkling of unidiomatic word choice produced by Google Translate. I find half the challenge of writing in French for a non-native speaker is not only knowing how to write in French, but also conforming to common expectations on style and how sentences are supposed to be formulated.

    I am puzzled by the explanation of the expression «tête carrée» as a person with coherent thinking. In current usage, it means an obstinate person, and in Quebec, usually a pejorative term meaning an Anglophone who is an obtuse, closed-minded or arrogant person. The site below suggests that it is an expression of Quebec origin.


    @Philip Taylor
    The "language tic" in the article is tic de langage, meaning something like filler words in English (as in "you know…", "like").

  5. Victor Mair said,

    April 30, 2022 @ 8:06 pm

    @Laura Morland:

    As you well know, we try to be ahead of the game.

    You'll probably see this expression being introduced in English media in the coming months.

    @Philip Taylor:


    (it's in English [borrowed from French; I knew it in English before reading this French article])

    1. (neurology) A sudden, nonrhythmic motor movement or vocalization.

    2. (by extension) Something that is done or produced habitually or characteristically.


    @Dara Connolly:

    If it's in English in French, I think it should remain in English in an English translation. I was impressed that GT was able to deal with that (and other tricky aspects of the French text).

  6. Victor Mair said,

    April 30, 2022 @ 8:09 pm

    @David C.

    "I first read the post thinking only the first part was from Google Translate, not realizing that so was the rest of the post."

    That's a tribute to GT. It's so good that it tricked you into thinking that "the rest of the post" was done by a human translator.

  7. AG said,

    April 30, 2022 @ 8:57 pm

    Seems like that took a very, very long time to get to the idea that people just like repeating things that rhyme!

  8. Keith said,

    May 1, 2022 @ 1:36 am

    The expression "à l'aise Blaise" should not have been translated into English, and "cool Raoul" is an example of an English word being shipped by the French. These two expressions are used very widely and their appeal comes from the rhyme.

    "Carré" had been used for decades to mean "precise, well organised". On first reading this expression "carré comme en Corée", I thought it was a play on "carré comme en Suisse" that hear or read from time to time. But "carré comme en Corée" had the added appeal of alliteration.

    And if there are two things that rappers adore, they are alliteration and rhyme.

    I couldn't read the whole of the article in le Monde (reserved for subscribers), and my knowledge of rap is limited, more or less, to MC Solaar, so I learnt a lot from the English translation provided; thank you, Victor.

  9. Philip Taylor said,

    May 1, 2022 @ 1:43 am

    My thanks to both David and Victor for their kind explanations of "language tic" — I assume that the phrase is less attested in translation than in the original tic de langage".

    As to the fragment of text that I initially failed to comprehend, I now assume that it should be parsed as "from (the fascination of rappers for the dictatorship) to (the language tic)" and not, as I had originally assumed, "from (the fascination of rappers for (the dictatorship to the language tic))". I think that I would understood better had I read the French original than rely on the translation.

  10. Victor Mair said,

    May 1, 2022 @ 5:51 am

    Keith nails it with "And if there are two things that rappers adore, they are alliteration and rhyme." That is exactly what I was thinking. And I'm grateful that he "learnt a lot from the English translation provided".


    "I would {have} understood better had I read the French original than rely on the translation."

    Doubtless, but the English translation gives one a leg up on the subject, especially if one does not know French and / or was unaware of the Le Monde article. So I'm pleased that the translation helped you to the extent that it did.

  11. Ed Rorie said,

    May 1, 2022 @ 7:03 am

    One unexpected takeaway from this post, for, me is the fact that “French rap” is a thing.

  12. Ed Rorie said,

    May 1, 2022 @ 7:05 am

    I have to repunctuate my comment:
    One unexpected takeaway from this post, for me, is the fact that “French rap” is a thing.

  13. Grop said,

    May 2, 2022 @ 2:53 am

    Not sure it is this obvious that *North* Korea is implied. I think this is more a matter of "rhyme", as carré and Corée sound very similar.

  14. Andrew Usher said,

    May 2, 2022 @ 7:56 am

    Yes, it's a rhyme, and that no doubt accounts for its 'catchiness'. But whoever first said it must surely have had the North and not the South country by the name in mind, even if he was joking.

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo.com

  15. Jon Forrest said,

    May 2, 2022 @ 10:08 am

    Since "carré" seems to be the word of the day, I thought I'd mention an interesting use of it I heard a while back.

    "Si c'est ronde, c'est point carré".

    Get it?

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