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Naver defines '썸타다' as:

  • have a fling

  • The action of pushing and pulling when a man and a woman who are attracted to but haven't started seeing each other.

These seem to be different meanings. The first meaning - 'a fling' is a complete (consummated?), but short, relationship, while the second meaning hints at a point in the development of a relationship. Are these both reasonable translations?

What is the origin of the term? I've heard that 썸 is from the English 'something', while 타다 is to 'get on' or 'ride'. Do these give clues to the meaning? (They seem to hint at the 'fling' meaning!)

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It comes from "Something" (썸씽) as in "Is there something going on between you two?"

Young kids in the 90s(?) used to say 썸씽, but at some point it has shortened to 썸. It's a euphemism (in the form of foreign language) for ambiguous romantic relationships. The meaning evolved into the initial stage in human relationships where they are not sure if they are in a serious relationship or not.

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Ok. To first address the definitions you provided, they are actually more or less the same. Neither state that the two individuals involved are in an 'official' relationship yet.

1) To have a fling: implies that something is already happening, in development towards a possible relationship, a lot of flirtation is in progress.

2) The action of pushing and pulling when two people who are attracted to but haven't started seeing each other: 'pushing and pulling' is actually a Konglish term, coming from 밀당 (밀고 당기다), which refers to flirtatious giving-taking actions that may occur before or during a relationship, to keep things spicy and not express "too much" interest because apparently that can get suffocating (not my opinion). (ex you 'send the first text' to them one day, but then ignore their msg on another.) Basically, flirting.

Finally, 썸 타다 comes from 썸씽 (something-something.. they have something going on that's not quite a relationship) and then ~타다 comes from other expressions regarding catching feelings : 외로움 타다 (to feel lonely) or 감성 타다 (to be deep and moody)

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