Actually, the full story is this :

During the Korean war, American soldiers, at least the blonde ones, were chased around by groups of Korean children shouting 'mi-guk! mi-guk(in)!'. juliet is partly correct, in that 'han-guk' is an adjective meaning 'Korea' in Korean itself, but the particle 'in' means person. The word 'mi-guk in' actually means 'beautiful person', literally, and is the word used by Koreans to this day to refer to Americans.

Of course, what the soldiers heard was 'Me..gook' - i.e. 'I am a gook' - and so they started using the sound 'gook' to refer to Koreans, and later all Asians, in an insulting and derogatory way.

How ironic is that huh?

Of course, this may be apocryphal, but hey I lived there for a coupla years, and this is the most convincing etymology I could find. Should be true, if it isn't.

Boscopher is not entirely correct with Korean translation. Here are some Korean nouns and definitions:
  • "Han-guk" = Korea (literally: Han country)
  • "Han-guk-in" = Korean people/person (literally: Han country people/person)
  • "mi-guk" = USA (literally: beautiful country)
  • "mi-guk in" = "American" people/person (literally: beautiful country people/person)
Here, Han is different from the ancient Han dynasty of China, and uses different characters. Names of most countries end with a country character as a suffix: "guk" in Korean, "guo" in Chinese, "koku/goku" in Japanese, and I suppose a similar system might also exist for Vietnamese. The Chinese-origin morpheme for "person/people" is "in" while the Korean-native word for it is "sharam."

The slang "gook" in American-English is a derogatory term for East Asians. What the dictionaries have to say about the origin is also note-worthy.

American Heritage dictionary says:
Perhaps alteration of earlier goo-goo, native inhabitant of the Philippines, Pacific islander.
The current version of Webster says:
Origin unknown

As a korean I find this to be one of life's funnier things.

I only learned about this term some years ago and was incredibly amused.

Now, I might be wrong but my knowledge and a friend's knowledge and of my mother's knowledge of the word gook point to it meaning soup in korean. My mother was raised in korea until the age of 22 and is now 46. She still speaks korean better than english. I consider the translation to be very reliable.

Gook = Soup

Their are many better insults in the world.

What kind of soup?

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