If you spend your time scrounging around comment sections for Korean webtoons, YouTube videos, and other parts of the online ecosystem, you’ve probably seen your fair share of words that you absolutely couldn’t figure out. They weren’t in dictionaries. They weren’t in Google Translate.
But they were absolutely everywhere else. Don’t worry, you’re not crazy. You probably just encountered a word that’s been flipped around per a text-speak trend that’s been around since the 2000s.
It’s called 야민정음, and it supposedly originated in the online forums of DC Inside, upon which its nickname is based. Its nickname might also sound familiar to you if you have learned about 훈민정음 (Hunminjeongeum / The Proper Sounds for the Instruction of the People), or the original document that King Sejong the Great used to introduce 한글 for commoners and women back in the mid-1400s.
For English speakers used to writing with the Latin/Roman alphabet, this online form of communication might be hard to comprehend at first. It’s not simply reversing the order of letters — it’s actually flipping the word upside-down so that it says an entirely different word, or swapping letters so that, when combined into a block, they look like other letters.
For example, 머, if you squint, could look like 대, if your handwriting was poor and you made the first vertical line of ㅐ too close to ㄷ, and much shorter than the second vertical line.
머 | 대
Can you see it?
This works because 한글, the Korean writing system, is composed of syllabic blocks, which in turn are built out of a variety of possible letters (this might sound confusing at first, but it’s an ingenious writing system that can be learned in just an hour, or even less). But several of these letters either look the exact same when turned upside-down, or they look exactly like another letter.
Look at these letters in the alphabet used by English speakers:
b | d
W | M
o | o
You can turn these around and they’ll still represent a letter, right? Korean can do the same when entire words are flipped upside-down!
One of the most common trends takes the word 눈물, or “tears,” and spins it around.
Let’s flip 눈물! Block by block, its original order is this:
But if we spin it, we get this:
This works because the following letters look like each other (or still look like themselves) when flipped around.
ㄴ | ㄱ
ㅜ | ㅗ
ㅁ | ㅁ
ㄹ | ㄹ
Why do Koreans do this online? I guess the real question is, why not? Maybe it’s something that humans just like to do, like how students always find ways to spell out words with numbers and symbols on their calculators, and how we look for designs hidden in fonts and logos. It’s creative. And honestly, it’s pretty cool that different Korean words can still be shifted into these code-like configurations.
Next time you can’t figure out a word in an online forum or a text, try reading it upside-down or squinting at it from far away — it might actually be something that you know!
Here are some common 야민정음 trend words and phrases. Can you guess what they mean? The answer key is below!
Common 야민정음 Phrases
야민정음 Answer Key
롬곡 | 눈물
롬곡옾눞 | 폭풍눈물
literally “a storm/blast of tears,” or lots of crying — use as slang when you’re really sad and upset about something.
댕댕이 | 멍멍이
literally “bow-wow,” meaning a cute dog
머박 | 대박
커엽다 | 귀엽다
머장 | 대장
chief, general; large intestine
윾재석 | 육재석
Grasshopper (need I say more?)
띵곡 | 명곡
masterpiece, classic (song)
- 한겨레: “롬곡롬곡·댕댕이·띵곡…‘야민정음’ 아세요”