Hanmadi, “one word,” is a series on Korean language and society, dedicated to exploring Korea one word at a time.
If you look up this word in one of the popular online Korean-English dictionaries—Daum Dictionary or Naver Dictionary—you don’t find much, probably because it’s a slang term. Even the regular Korean dictionaries on these sites don’t give you the whole picture.
Naver’s Korean dictionary is sourced from the Standard Korean Dictionary from the National Institute of the Korean Language, a government organization, and, as such and unsurprisingly, has only a crowd-sourced and very indirect definition for the word:
Daum’s Korean dictionary, sourced from the Korea University Korean Dictionary, also only has a crowd-sourced definition.
The top four example sentences on Naver’s Korean-English dictionary, however, pull back the curtain completely.
So, hunting is what we in English we would call “picking up” (or anyway, trying to pick up), although overall, I think, without the slimy pick-up artist connotations.
Namu.wiki—Korean Wikipedia with a sarcastic streak—says this about it:
A rough translation:
When a person approaches another, mutually unknown, for the purpose of meeting the opposite sex. When, like sogaeting [a future post], it’s a situation where you’re meeting someone you don’t know who a friend introduced, or when, like sseom [another future post], there are already romantic feelings between you and the other person, it’s not called hunting.
Occasionally this can happen on the street, public transportation, or other completely open places, but more often it happens at shared tables in drinking establishments, at clubs, at nightclubs, and other places that, tacitly, have this kind of atmosphere.
Generally men approach women, but every once in a while, men encounter a rare woman on the prowl.
If you know English well enough to read this blog, you probably realize that hunting comes from the English word “hunting,” as Namu.wiki points out:
Hunting is the gerund of the verb to “hunt,” meaning, to quote the venerable OED, “[t]o go in pursuit of wild animals or game; to engage in the chase.” That’s the first definition, anyway—other definitions, such as 3a, “To search, seek (after or for anything), esp. with eagerness and exertion,” or 4a, “To pursue with force, violence, or hostility; to chase and drive before one; to put to flight; to chase or drive away or out,” take on new weight when viewed in light of the Korean slang meaning.
The OED also tells us that hunt in English comes from Old Teutonic through Old English, with the first written references in English from around 1000 AD. Unfortunately, I’m not sure when it entered Korean–as far as I can tell, there’s no Korean equivalent of the OED (I would love to be wrong, so someone please tell me if you know of one! Naver and Daum are the closest—but as I said, there’s no official definition there!)
Okay, now to the juicy stuff.
The first time I heard the word hunting in the Korean context was on one of my last days teaching young adults at an international trade organization there. Tongue loosened, I suppose, from the impending end of our teacher-student relationship, one kid, Edward, a buggy-eyed 20-year-old with a mop of black hair and huge grin, asked me a question.
“Teacher,” he said, “How can I meet foreign women?”
At a loss, I suggested that he go to a bar in Itaewon, Seoul’s “foreigner district,” talk to a girl there, and get her number if they hit it off.
“Like a hunting club?” he asked.
“A what?” For the second time in five minutes, Edward had taken away my words.
So, he and his classmates explained to me about hunting clubs: bars where you go, browse the inventory and, if you see someone you like, exchange numbers. You’d then connect over Kakao, the instant messaging system without which Korean society couldn’t function, and maybe meet up again later.
If you’re a Westerner and not familiar with Korean dating culture, this probably just sounds like a pretty normal bar or club to you. In Korea though, probably influenced by both the tradition of being partnered by friends, family or marriage brokers and the tendency for businesses to seriously specialize, there’s a special bar for this kind of thing–although it does happen sometimes at non-specialized bars and clubs, too.
“hunt, v.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2016. Web. 18 March 2016.