MWO (뭐) is an expression in Korean that can have different meanings depending on the context. At its core, MWO literally translates to “what” in English, but it can convey much more than just a simple question. When used with proper tone and intention, MWO can express surprise, disbelief, dismissal, annoyance, and other sentiments. Understanding the nuances of MWO is key to navigating casual conversations and interpreting pop culture in Korean. This article will explore the common meanings and uses of MWO in Korean speech and culture.
Meaning of MWO as “What?”
The most literal translation of MWO is as the question “what?” Asking MWO is like asking “what did you say?” or “pardon me?” when you didn’t clearly hear something. For example:
Friend: 저는 밥을 먹었어요.
You: 뭐요? 한번 더 말해주세요.
Here, MWO is used to politely ask your friend to repeat what they said because you did not hear it clearly the first time. This is the most straightforward use of MWO to mean “what?”
MWO can also be used to ask someone to clarify or explain something you don’t understand:
Teacher: 내일 시험이 있습니다.
Student: 뭐요? 시험이 있다고요?
The student says MWO here to express confusion or surprise about the test announcement. The subtext is “what do you mean there is a test tomorrow?” even though they clearly heard the teacher’s words.
Expressing Surprise or Disbelief
A more nuanced use of MWO is to convey a sense of surprise or disbelief. MWO said with a dramatic tone can mean “No way!” or “You’re kidding me!” For example:
Friend: 내가 오늘 iPad를 샀어!
You: 뭐요?! 정말이야?
Here, MWO expresses your incredulous reaction to your friend’s claim that they bought an expensive item today. The MWO implies that you are shocked or skeptical about what they said.
MWO is very commonly used in this way on Korean variety shows. When a guest reveals a surprising or scandalous detail, the host or other guests will react by exclaiming MWO with an exaggerated, stunned expression.
This use of MWO is similar to saying “No way!” or “Shut up!” in English to signal disbelief about something. It invites the speaker to provide more details or proof of their claim.
Dismissing or Downplaying Something
In addition to expressing disbelief, MWO can also be used to dismiss or downplay something. This meaning conveys a flippant or indifferent attitude. For example:
Boss: 내일 아침 7시까지 보고서를 제출하세요.
Employee: 뭐, 보고서? 금방 할 수 있어요.
Here, the employee responds to the boss’s request using MWO to brush off the task as no big deal. The subtext is “Pshh, a report? I can finish that up easily.”
Said with the right aloof tone, MWO can give off an arrogant vibe as if you are too good to be concerned with the matter at hand. Teenagers often use MWO like this when responding to parents or teachers as a way to dismiss unwanted tasks or demands.
Expressing Annoyance or Impatience
In some contexts, MWO conveys annoyance, irritation, or impatience with whatever was just said or done. This use of MWO implies a sense of “Ugh, enough already!” or “Not this again!” Let’s look at some examples:
Younger sibling: 오빠, 나 돈 좀 줘.
Older sibling: 뭐야, 또? 돈은 없어.
Here, the older sibling responds to the younger one’s pestering request for money using MWO to signal they are fed up and annoyed. The tone conveys impatience and frustration.
Wife: 안녕, 여보. 집에 오는 길에 우유 좀 사와.
Husband: 뭐야, 난 바빠. 너 사와.
The husband uses MWO here to brush off his wife’s request in an irritated way. The subtext is “Ugh, what now? I’m busy, you get it.” The MWO signals he is annoyed by the additional ask.
So in conversations, listen for MWO said in an exasperated tone to pick up on someone’s annoyance or impatience with a situation.
Emphasizing Confusion or Incredulity
For extra emphasis, Koreans will sometimes repeat MWO several times in a row. Saying MWO multiple times in succession amplifies the feeling of confusion, disbelief, or dismissal. For example:
Friend: 나 이제 결혼한다고.
You: 뭐? 뭐? 뭐? 정말? 심각한 얘기야?
Repeating MWO here underscores your shocked disbelief at your friend’s announcement. The repetition dramatizes your incredulous reaction.
You’ll also see Korean celebrities or talk show hosts repeat MWO several times on TV shows. This draws out the surprise factor for entertainment and engagement.
Sarcastic or Condescending Use
In the right context, MWO can take on a sarcastic or condescending tone. This occurs when the speaker aims to belittle someone or mock their words using MWO. Some examples:
Older brother: 동생아, 숙제 다 했니?
Younger brother: 뭐, 나 못 해?
Here, the younger brother responds rudely with sarcastic MWO, taking offense at the implication he wouldn’t do his homework. The MWO conveys contempt for the question.
Boss: 이 보고서 마감 시한은 다음 주까지예요.
Employee: 뭐라고요? 다음 주까지요? 불가능해요.
The employee uses belittling MWO here to mock the boss’s unreasonable deadline as ridiculous. The sarcastic tone comes across as disrespectful.
So be mindful of intonation when using MWO yourself to avoid inadvertently sounding scornful or condescending.
In Song Lyrics and Titles
MWO frequently appears in Korean song lyrics and titles to add rhetorical flair. The ambiguous emotional nuance of MWO makes it useful for setting a mood. For example:
– Title: 뭐야? (What is this?)
– Lyrics: 뭐야 뭐야 뭐야 이게… (What what what is this…)
– Title: 뭐소 (What’s up)
– Lyrics: 뭐게 왜 이래 뭐소… (Why you being like this, what’s up…)
Using MWO in songs gives a sense of confusion, surprise, sadness, or any hard to pin down emotion. The open-ended feel of MWO helps set a lyrical vibe.
In Texting and Messaging
MWO is very commonly used in text messages and online chatting apps. Some examples:
– Friend: 내일 일찍 만나자
– You: ? 뭐야 갑자기
(What? Why suddenly?)
– Coworker: 야, 보고서 언제 끝낼 거야?
– You: 뭐? 보고서 마감이 한 달 남았잖아?
(What? The report deadline is one month away?)
The abbreviated nature of texting lends itself well to the terse and casual MWO for responding quickly. Using MWO allows you to react with surprise, confusion, annoyance or disbelief without typing a lengthy response. It is very versatile for conveying reactions over text.
In Memes and Internet Slang
MWO is ubiquitous in Korean memes and internet slang, much like “wtf” in English. You’ll see it in forum comments, image macros, reaction gifs, and more. For example:
(Image of a lonely man)
How can she slap?!?
*insert shocked MWO meme*
Used in internet content like this, MWO expresses disbelief, confusion, or incredulity in a funny and exaggerated way. It’s used creatively to make memes more relatable.
In summary, here are some of the most common ways MWO is used in Korean speech and culture:
– Literal meaning of “What?” when you didn’t hear clearly
– Conveying disbelief or surprise
– Dismissing or downplaying something
– Expressing annoyance or impatience
– Emphasizing confusion/incredulity by repeating multiple times
– Sarcastic or condescending tone
– Setting a mood in songs and music
– Reacting quickly in text messages and chat
– Exaggerated reactions in memes and internet content
The versatile MWO has many nuanced emotional connotations beyond just a simple question. Listen for the context and tone to fully understand the intent behind MWO. With the right delivery, a single word can speak volumes.
MWO is a key part of speaking natural, everyday Korean. Native speakers use it extensively in conversations to react and express emotions. Understanding the various shades of meaning behind MWO will help you navigate authentic dialogue, pop culture, and online content. Pay attention to tone and context to pick up on the subtle but important nuances. With practice, you too can use MWO fluently and sound more like a local when chatting in Korean. Mastering this ubiquitous little word will take your Korean skills to the next level.