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Why it’s cool to be a dirt spoon in Korea

Why it’s cool to be a dirt spoon in Korea

Heuksujeo used to be a snobbish insult. Now younger generations are reclaiming the term

Heuksujeo used to be a snobbish insult. Now younger generations are reclaiming the term

Lane Greene | April/May 2019

A common English expression refers to the privileged few who are born “with a silver spoon in their mouth”. South Koreans divide the world into geumsujeo, “golden spoons”, and heuksujeo, or “dirt spoons”.

This cutlery classification distinguishes the haves from the have-nots, giving a Korean twist to a universal sentiment. Like young people everywhere, many young Koreans fret that social mobility is declining. As with a number of other terms that were first used in contempt, some dirt spoons now embrace their label. The members of BTS, a Korean boy-band whose name means “bulletproof boy scouts”, boast about their hard work more than their flash lifestyles: “What kind of spoon are you, to say that?” they sing in “Fire” (below); “I worked all night every day/while you were clubbing,” they croon in “Dope”. The anti-establishment message has won plaudits beyond Korea. Dirt spoons of the world, unite.