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If you are studying Korean, I bet you have heard about “정(Jeong: affection, attachment, goodwill etc.)”. The concept of 정 is a topic that you will eventually come across while learning Korean. When you type 정 in a dictionary, it lists words like ‘affection’ or ‘attachment’, but can 정 simply be reduced to one word?
Most Koreans that I know have a hard time explaining 정 to foreigners because it is not a simple concept to digest without fully knowing the cultural background. I personally had a difficult time to put this unique concept into words.
Although the definition of 정 can be different from a person to person, as a native Korean, I infer 정 is a special treatment derived from a personal attachment to or closeness with you. This special treatment is considered you being exclusively accepted into a one’s personal inner circle because the person who gives you정 and lowers his/her personal guards against you.
I believe 정 is largely related to love. However, 정 is a little different notion from a romantic love. When someone says **이러다 정 들겠어. (ee-ruh-dah-jeong-deul-get-uh: someone may grow on you), it means that this person feels close to you, as a good friend. 정 might also be an emotional seed that leads to a romantic love, but it doesn’t have to refer to a romantic bond.
As most Korean moms do, when my mother shares food with her friends, she ends up adding more foods at the end, saying **하나만 주면 정 없어.(ha-nah-manh-joo-myeon-jeong-up-uh: There is no affection if I give you only one). In this case, 정 shows love, friendship, or goodwill. In general. I remember most 할머니 (hal-money: grandmother) vendors at traditional markets gave me more food items than what I was supposed to get for price. This 정 might not be easily understood in western mind-set.
**정들었던 강아지가 죽어서 슬퍼.( jeong-deul-ut-dun gang-ah-gee-ka juk-uh-seo seul-puh: I am sad because my puppy I was fond of died.) In this case, you are sad because a dog you have raised has died. In this case, 정 indicates an emotional attachment has grown very deeply and you were very fond of the dog.
정 can be a positive thing, but also can be problematic when a 공 과 사(Gong- gwah-sah: public matter and private matter) private feeling is mixed with public matters. For instance, my boss gives my friend a promotion because my boss is personally closed to my friend despite my performance being the best of my team.
**정 때문에 산다.( jeong-Ttae-moon-ae-san-da: living with/putting up with someone because of the past history, not love.) When an unhappy married woman says this, 정 can be interpreted as a negative comment. For instance, this unhappily married woman has grown sick of her husband over the years, but she stays married to him because either she doesn’t have any other sources to get out of her marriage or she can bear him enough to live under the same roof. It can be interpreted as a blind loyalty, or helpless faith.
정 can have many meanings in different circumstances and I have probably explained to you only **빙산의 일각(bing-san-eou-ill-kak: the tip of iceberg). In short, you can think of 정 as someone inviting you in to their personal world and loving you deeply. What do you think of 정 now?