At the end of December 2009, the Chosun Ilbo published an article stating that the current spelling of “Makgeolli” might cause some non-Koreans to mispronounce it as Mak-jolee. The author suggested that the spelling should be changed and this would popularize this alcohol overseas. He recommended a few different options such as Maggoli, Makkoli, and Makoli.
I wish that the author had done some research to test this opinion, because it caused quite a stir with the aT Center (The Agro-Trade Center) and amongst the Korean public. The aT Center is a government organization that has been heading the Korean Food Globalization project and my company (O’ngo Food Communications) has been working with them on several different projects including how to market makgeolli overseas.
Back in October of 2009, our company and the heads of many makgeolli companies had a meeting to discuss changing the name of makgeolli. I will tell you the same thing I told them: it is not cost efficient, it will cause needless confusion, and it won’t put the drink in people’s hands.
If you Google the current spelling of makgeolli, you will get 75,800 hits on the traditional rice alcohol. This is the spelling accepted by CNN, the Lonely Planet, Wikipedia, Korean newspapers, the Korean government, and overseas newspapers. If you search for maggoli (which sounds like maggots), you will get 103 hits — most are about a Scottish family. Makkoli has 35,000 hits (the top hits refer to a Japanese sushi restaurant in New Jersey) and most of the hits about “makoli” are of a famous chess player with the same last name.
Changing the name of something that is obviously accepted would cost the Korean government millions of dollars and cause endless confusion.
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Posted By Daniel Gray of Seoul Eats