South Korean survival drama series Squid Game has captured the hearts and minds of Netflix audiences since its release on 17 September. It’s easy to see why: its masks are iconic, its name enigmatic, and its characters “dreamy”. But what does the name of its sixth episode – Gganbu – mean in Korean?
Does the word ‘gganbu’ have a direct meaning in Korean?
Yes and no.
Among the Korean dictionaries listed on LexiLogos, including the Korean Wiktionary, Seattle-based Korean dictionary ZKorean, and Naver, a South Korean online language platform, there is no consensus on whether or not “gganbu” is even a word in the Korean language.
However, variations in spelling suggests some answers.
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Inputting the Hangul (the Korean language writing system) generated by ZKorean as a transliteration of “gganbu” into Google’s dictionary produces the English word “cadre”. A cadre is a small group of people specially trained for a particular purpose – which has some bearing on how the word is used in Squid Game.
Does gganbu have any other meanings?
Interestingly, the mainland Chinese word for cadre sounds similar: in Pinyin, it is written as “Gànbù”.
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As several Quora users have written, the Korean language – along with Japanese – has a large number of Chinese loanwords, which might explain the correlation.
Google offers “adulterer” and “wicked woman” as alternative translations of the word, although it Latinises it as “ganbu” (with one G, not two).
Meanwhile, Kkanbu is the name of a popular roast chicken chain shop in South Korea’s capital, Seoul.
How is it used in the context of the series?
Gganbu is the name of episode 6 of South Korean survival drama Squid Game. According to one Reddit user’s appraisal, the episode is “a masterpiece”.
In the episode, which became available to watch on Netflix at the same time as the rest of the series (on 17 Sept), the players pair up to play marble games heads-to-head.
The episode sees Player 001 and Gi-hun become gganbu which, according to Ready Steady Cut’s recap, means they are “neighbourhood best friends”.
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In this context, the writers of the show may be taking advantage of the fluidity of colloquialisms, of which “gganbu” seems to be an example.
001 gives Gi-hun his remaining marble and reminds him that they are gganbu. Gganbu share everything. He sacrifices himself – but not before he remembers his name.