Jjang meaning explained: It appears in various forms – jjang, kkaep jjang, illjjang – but what does the South Korean word jjang actually mean, and how is it used?

One of the fun things about the emergence of bands, films and influencers across the globe is the chance to feel a little clever by learning some new words, even slang. 

The K-Pop phenomenon is still going strong, with South Korean bands such as BTS, ACE and others adding new faces and rhythms to pop, rap and electronic pop. With them, we’ve gained some new terms and phrases. 

THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON — Episode 1330A — Pictured in this screengrab: Musical guest BTS performs on October 2, 2020 — (Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

What does jjang mean?

A quick disclaimer here – unfortunately I don’t speak Korean, other than what I’ve garnered from Duolingo and a few words picked up during taekwondo training. As such, I’m heavily reliant on the helpful translations I’ve found.

It’s possible Korean readers of The Focus may be left cringing by any errors here, for which I apologise in advance!

But with that said…

Jjang

The word jjang means ‘best’. It’s also used as a title to mean ‘chief’. As someone on Quora explained, it conveys someone or something is ‘superb’, ‘superior or dominant’, ‘the best person’.

Among young people especially it has been used as slang to convey a general sense of excellence. In popular slang, it not only means best but also ‘awesome’.

YouTuber Granny Kim, from Sweet And Tasty TV, gives a mocking frown at the idea. She tells us on light-hearted tutorial Korean Word Of The Week, jjang is “sometimes confused with daebak”, which means ‘big win’ or ‘awesome’. 

 

While acknowledging the popular use of jjang, she points out: “Just because something is daebak, doesn’t mean it’s jjang!”

Regardless, jjang is often used to mean awesome as well as best, especially among young people. Some social media posts note it’s becoming less popular as a term among South Korean youth, but it has far from disappeared. 

https://twitter.com/_yeolsisipbun/status/1315474691755184128/photo/1

Ull-jjang

Jjang is also occasionally used interchangeably with ull-jjang. Ull-jjang means ‘best face’. This refers to someone who is very handsome or beautiful, or someone who is looking their best.

Kkaep jjang

This one will be familiar to BTS fans. One of the band’s singers, Suga, often uses the phrase – it also means ‘awesome’.

As one Hinative user helpfully explained, it’s used to say something or someone is ‘awesome, very cool, dope, great’. The word is: “A compound word of CAPtain (or capital) and another Korean slang jjang meaning: ‘superb’. kaep(cap) + jjang = ultimately superb.”

High praise indeed! Suga has taken this further at performances to show just how much he thinks of his fans, shouting a new motto, “kayo pinakamagaling”, meaning “you are the best”.

So now you can join in the conversation when you hear jjang used in its various forms!

Have something to tell us about this article?