What Does the Korean Expression “Aish” (아이씨) Really Mean?

You hear a lot of this expression in Korean movies, much more in the daily Korean conversation. It’s a kind of expression that people say a lot and even none Koreans are trying to adopt this because, I don’t know, maybe they find it cute. However, let’s try to delve a little bit more into the meaning of the Korean expression “Aisssshhh…..”.

In my few years of living in Korea, I can’t count how many times I heard Koreans say this to me, and in that so many times, I received this kind of response when I am in a not-so-good situation. Either I committed a mistake or I have done something not acceptable. Sometimes, I get this kind of expression when in a normal conversation talking about some unbelievable or thought-provoking topics. So in this context, let’s try to understand more of this Korean expression.

In my knowledge, when somebody says “Aish”, it actually a shortened or a less version of the Korean curse “Aishibal!!!” (아이씨) which means “What a f*ck!”. However, there are some situations when cursing is not allowed or acceptable, so in order to express frustration in a not so vulgar way, Koreans just cut it short to “Aish!” instead of the actual “Aishibal!”. It’s like saying “Oh shoot!” instead of “Oh sh*t!”. Or it’s like simply saying “WTF!” instead of the whole meaning of the acronym. So in a way, Aish is a curse word, but because it’s in a shortened form, it doesn’t sound like it and became acceptable in conversation to show frustrations or to express annoyance. That’s why when you bump your head on the wall, or you stepped on sharp objects or you are angry with somebody and you don’t want to curse, you can just say the alternative “AISHHHH”.

However, Koreans used the expression too much that as time goes by, younger Koreans don’t really treat it as a half-cursed word but simply a cute expression. That is why you can hear this expression a lot in Korean dramas and even in daily conversation because, over time, the meaning of the expression has changed into something wholesome. So I think that even though the real etymology points to a curse, new generation Koreans freely use the expression without even considering it’s a curse. For them, it’s simply an expression when you’re frustrated. The mere fact that it is present in the KDrama scripts, it means that it has been since acceptable in society and doesn’t mean anything except to express annoyance.

But, just because your Korean Oppa says this in a drama doesn’t mean you can use it too. Well, you can, but always remember not to overuse it. You can’t say this to your boss, to your parents, to the elders, and to whoever higher than you, that’s rude. Use this expression in the right context and at the right time. So hopefully next time you say “Aish”, you remember this.