September 30, 2023

The overlooked spelling error that underscores North Korea’s culture of fear

The country’s highest honor misspelled the DPRK’s name for years, as correcting the party was all but inconceivable

In much of the English-speaking world, the country ruled by Kim Jong Un is known simply and succinctly as North Korea. Yet this, of course, is not the country’s official name — the much longer Democratic People’s Republic of Korea — and Pyongyang shuns the shorter “North Korea” in all official and even semi-official dealings as a label legitimizing the peninsula’s division.

There is a degree of hypocrisy in these statements. Northerners themselves normally prefer to just say “the Republic” rather than to break their tongue over the convoluted sobriquet. But what’s funnier, in a rather dark way, is that the DPRK once referred to itself by a wrong name for several years, in a little-known episode that highlights the enduring political culture of fear north of the DMZ.