Gapjil: Punching Down Gangnam Style

What is “Gapjil”?

Every society has people who punch down. In America, we tend to call them “bullies,” and what they do to those weaker than them “bullying.” Koreans describe certain forms of bullying using the word “gapjil (갑질).”

Korean contracts usually specify two parties, Party A and Party B, and sometimes a third, Party C. In Korean, these are “Gap (갑),” “Eul (을),” and “Byeong (병).”

A lease agreement I translated recently was clear about the nature of the relationship between these parties, its contractual language defining an unbalanced distribution of power that enables gapjil, acting like a Gap, like a Party A. The agreement let Party A get away with economic abuse if not quite murder, making Party B dependent on the kindness of Party A.

Dependence is never a good idea even when dealing with an empathetic human being. If Party A is a soulless corporation, though, one managed by executives pursuing quarterly bonuses and short-term goals, then being Party B on a contract may mean suffering the whims of people made cruel by their higher status in a power relationship, by being Party A.

So gapjil is what a person with power does when being a dick to someone without power. Why? Because they can, because they see themselves as Party A, the alpha in the relationship.

Gapjil is punching down, Gangnam style.