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Butter : idiomatic meaning in the Korean language


Butter and its idiomatic meaning in the Korean language

BTS’s new song, Butter, is one of the most popular songs these days and not long after its release, it has already won several awards and broken various records on multiple music-playing platforms.


So since the English word butter is being mentioned a lot in people’s conversations, tweets and comments, why don’t we take a moment to think about the Korean word for it? It’s quite similar to English ㅡ 버터, pronounced like [beo-teo]. (We will skip romanization for the other sample words and phrases that follow, since romanization isn’t always true to the actual Korean sounds anyway. You can learn to read and write Hangeul within a couple of hours with our Hangeul course or Hangeul book.)

When I think about 버터, either the word or the cooking ingredient itself, these words pop into my head:

  • 무염(無鹽) 버터 : butter without any salt added
  • 버터샵 : a Korean stationery & interior shop brand
  • 앙버터 : two slices of bread with red-bean paste and butter in between (The word 앙 comes from 팥앙금[= 팥소, red-bean paste].)
  • 마가린: margarine (Butter is more commonly consumed than margarine these days but back when I was little, margarine was the only “buttery” thing we had in my house to add to bread or rice.)

But these words are actually not the first to come to my mind when I think about the word 버터. It’s actually an idiomatic expression that I thought of before anything else, and it is 버터 발음.

버터 발음(butter-like pronunciation) describes someone’s fluent pronunciation of a foreign language, and in 99% of the time, it’s about English. It’s an impression that a lot of Korean people have about English, presumably because of sounds like R, L, V, etc.

When a celebrity speaks fluent English on a TV show with a good pronunciation, especially with their R’s and L’s pronounced confidently, there will be news articles and YouTube videos about their 버터 발음, which is a compliment.

When we learn new languages, we naturally want to strive for a good & accurate pronunciation, so 버터 발음 is what all of us are going for in any foreign language. But for some reason, there is a certain amount of pressure on a lot of Korean people learning English that if they try too hard to sound like a native, maybe their overly emphasized 버터 발음 might make them feel embarrassed in front of other people. Possible reasons? Maybe they think their peers will tell them they are trying too hard. Maybe they might look like they are trying to show off. Maybe they don’t think their general level of English is not up to par with their fluent pronunciations of R’s and L’s yet.

Whatever the reason may be, a lot of English learners in Korea tend to have this love-hate relationship with 버터 발음. And the moment the word “butter” started trending due to BTS’s new song of the same title, I knew I HAD TO talk about 버터 발음 to everyone learning Korean at Talk To Me In Korean.


And I wonder ㅡ if a fluent & smooth English pronunciation with confident R’s, L’s and V’s is called 버터 발음 or 버터 바른 발음(바르다 means to “spread” something like butter or jam on bread), what can we call a fluent & smooth KOREAN pronunciation? How about 참기름(sesame-oil) 발음? I will leave you to decide what is a good equivalent of an idiomatic expression for good Korean pronunciation by a learner.

Your Korean pronunciation will naturally and definitely get better as you practice more and more, but don’t worry too much about sounding perfect from the beginning. Balance is always key, so pay attention not just to your pronunciation but also what kind of sentences you can form on your own to communicate with others in Korean.

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