For many of us who are fans of South Korean entertainment, we know that something is about to go down when we hear the term “hwaiting!” (화이팅) in films, Kdramas, or TV shows.
While it is apparently a direct Konglish mispronunciation of the English word “fighting”, it doesn’t necessarily mean that someone is actually engaging in combat. Most of the time, it is used when a character is at a turning point in the story where he/she is encouraged to “fight” on.
Usually translated into English as “Come on!” or “Let’s go!”, “hwaiting!” can be best defined as a form of support or encouragement to not give up. The term, which is also often used by South Korean fans cheering for their teams at sporting events, is often accompanied with enthusiastic fist-waving and the expression “Aja aja!”, which pretty much means the same thing.
Instead of saying “fighting”, however, Koreans usually end up saying what sounds like “hwaiting” or “paiting”, as Hangul, the Korean language, doesn’t have an “f” phoneme.
While its origins are not entirely known, a popular story claims that “hwaiting!” dates back during the Korean war, when U.S. army bases would hire local service providers for a variety of jobs. It is said that, due to the limited available jobs, it became a common practice among Korean contractors to undercut each other’s work at the American bases.
Conflicts would sometimes lead to public fights, which American soldiers ended up watching as a form of entertainment. They would reportedly chant “fight!” “fight!” “fight!” to urge squabbling parties to engage in physical quarrels. The Koreans who witnessed such chanting reportedly misunderstood the word “fight” as a term used to cheer people on, and so it has been used as such to this day.
Some believe that Koreans having experienced being invaded numerous times throughout history have embraced an unusually aggressive term as a form of supportive chant. The context of how it was used merely changed over time.
Although widely used colloquially, “hwaiting” (화이팅) is still considered a slang term and remains excluded in important Korean dictionaries, such as Standard Korean Language Dictionary; still, that isn’t going to stop South Koreans and fans of the Korean wave from saying it to wish each other good luck.
Have you heard any other origin stories behind the Korean colloquialism for “Hwaiting”? Let us know in the comments!