From the title of this post, and indeed the title of this blog, you can already see what my opinion on this is. Let me explain it.
I see ‘Taekwondo’ written in a lot of different ways. I see it written: Tae Kwon Do, Tae Kwon-Do, Tae-Kwon-Do, TaeKwon-Do, TaeKwon-do, Taekwon-Do, Taekwon-do, TaeKwonDo, TaeKwondo, Taekwondo, taekwondo, T’aegwŏndo, Taegwondo. (All of these different ways written deliberately and not mistakenly.)
Most of these writings vary only in whether syllables are separated by spaces and hyphens, and in capitalisation.
I think that the correct way to write 태권도 is ‘Taekwondo’. No spaces, no hyphens, no capital letters in the middle of the word, but the first letter should be a capital letter.
Firstly, why shouldn’t there be any spaces? ‘Taekwondo’ is one word in Korean. It would be like, in English, instead of writing ‘information’, writing ‘in form ation’. Certainly, each of the syllables in ‘Taekwondo’ has meaning – just as ‘in’, ‘form’, and ‘ation’ have distinct etymological meanings – and looking at the separate meanings is how we learn what the whole word means, but ‘Taekwondo’ is not three words, it is one.
Why shouldn’t there be any hyphens? In large part for the same reason that there shouldn’t be any spaces. Writing ‘Tae-Kwon-Do’ suggests that it’s three words rather than one. Writing ‘Taekwon-do’ suggests that the ‘do’ is a suffix that can be omitted as with ‘Karate-do’, but no-one ever calls ‘Taekwondo’ just ‘Taekwon’.
Furthermore, in the McCune-Reischauer and Revised systems of romanisation, hyphens are significant. They are used to separate letters that English speakers may interpret as a single sound – specifically they are used to distinguish between ‘ng’ and ‘n-g’. An example of this is in the word 평안 pyeong-an. If the hyphen were omitted from the romanisation, this would be written ‘pyeongan’, but this is ambiguous – is the pronunciation like ‘pyeong-an’ or ‘pyeon-gan’? Thus, hyphens shouldn’t be used to separate syllables unless necessary to help with pronunciation.
Why shouldn’t there be any capital letters WITHIN the word, like in ‘TaeKwonDo’? This is just bad English. The trend for using capital letters in the middle of words (like in ‘YouTube’) is a modern phenomenon that’s used most often in brand names. It’s inelegant, and looks very odd if you dO iT aLl ThE tImE.
Why should there be a ‘k’ instead of a ‘g’? G’s in Korean words tend to be confusing. For example, the romanisation of 고려 according to the Revised Romanisation is goryeo, but the ㄱ in this position is pronounced more like a ‘k’ than a ‘g’, which is why writing this word as ‘koryo’ makes a lot of sense. This is also true of a word like 국기원 – written gukgiwon in RR, but more familiar when written kukkiwon. When the ㄱ is in the middle of the word, the pronunciation IS often more like a ‘g’, but a ‘g’ is often still confusing for English speakers, so a ‘k’ should be used. (Similarly, I advocate writing ‘kukki-won’ rather than ‘gukgiwon’, ‘songdo-kwan’ rather than ‘songdogwan’, and so on.)
And finally, why should ‘Taekwondo’ always start with a capital letter? ‘Taekwondo’ is a proper noun – it is a name – not capitalising the first letter would be like writing ‘britain’ or ‘korea’. Taekwondo is a specific style of martial arts, much the same way that Impressionism is a specific style of western art, and both should be written with a capital letter at the start.