Thursday, November 21, 2019

Wouldn't you like to test your Korean?

ANSWER: Of course you would. Who wouldn't?

If you would like to "Test Your Korean," there is a button for it at the bottom of This Page, and it is free.
By the way, I am really impressed with the way the "Talk to me in Korean" group teaches Korean. They seem to be Korean-teaching dynamos. You can see many of their videos on YouTube. Here is one of them.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

What does 고인(故人) mean?

ANSWER: a dead person

The Chinese character 故(고) means "ancient," and 人(인) means "person," so 고인(故人) literally means "an ancient person." Since ancient people are dead people, if you become an ancient person, you become a dead person. That is why the phrase 고인 되다 means "to die."

But 고인(故人) can also mean "an old friend" since 고(故) is the same 고 used in 고향(故鄕), which means "hometown" or one's "old (故) village (鄕)." So, 고인(故人) or 고우(故友) is another way to say 고향 친구, which means "hometown friend" or "childhood friend."

By the way, the Korean word for "dolmen" is 고인돌. Even though it is supposedly a pure Korean word, I wonder if it originally meant "dead people rocks" (故人돌).

Saturday, November 09, 2019

What does "bulgogi" (불고기) literally mean?

ANSWER: probably "red (불) meat (고기)"

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines "bulgogi" (불고기) as follows:
a Korean dish of thinly sliced, marinated beef that is grilled or panfried
So, Merriam Webster says bulgogi is made from "beef," and there are Korean dictionaries that say the same thing. My Korean-Korean dictionary does not specify "beef," but says bulgogi is made from 살코기, which my Korean-English dictionary defines as "lean (red) meat." Though "red meat" often implies beef, Wikipedia says that "adult or gamey mammals" are also considered "red meat," such as horse meat, mutton, venison, boar, and hare. Wikipedia also says that most poultry and young mammals--such as rabbit, veal, and lamb--are "white meat."

Many sources, including Wikipedia, claim bulgogi (불고기) literally means "fire meat," implying "roasted meat," but it seems the only reason they claim that is because 불 is the pure Korean word for "fire." However, 불 is also a pure Korean suffix that means "red."

Here are some Korean words that use 불 to mean "red":
  • 불개미 red ants
  • 불거리 red sunrise (used in North Korea)
  • 불거지 red sunset (used in North Korea)
  • 불겅이 reddish object, a fresh red pepper, reddish pipe tobacco
  • 불곰 brown bear, sometimes called a grizzly bears  (has reddish brown fur)
  • 불그데데하다 be reddish
  • 불그레하다 be reddish, be tinged with red
  • 불그스름하다 be a little reddish
  • 불그죽죽하다 be somberly reddish
  • 불긋 불긋 with red spots
  • 불물 rusty water (used in North Korea)
  • 불암소 a reddish female cow or heifer
  • 불여우 red fox
  • 불콩 a red bean
One problem with claiming that 불고기 means "fire meat" or "roasted meat" is that the Korean language already has a word that means "roasted meat," and that word is 고기구이. The pure Korean suffix "-구이" comes from the pure Korean verb 굽다, which means "to roast," and there is a long list of words that use the suffix 구이, including the following:
  • 가리비구이 grilled or roasted scallops (not 불가리비)
  • 가자미구이 grilled or roasted halibut (not 불가자미)
  • 고등어구이 grilled or roasted mackerel (not 불고등어)
  • 곱창구이 grilled or roasted pork or cow intestines (not 불곱창)
  • 닭구이 grilled or roasted chicken (not 불닭 to mean roasted chicken)
  • 돼지구이 grilled or roasted pork (not 불돼지)
  • 버섯구이 grilled or roasted mushrooms (not 불버석)
  • 두부구이 grilled or roasted tofu (not 불두부)
  • 삼치구이 grilled or roasted Japanese seerfish (not 불삼치)
  • 새우구이 grilled or roasted shrimp (not 불새우)
  • 생선구이 grilled or roasted fish (not 불생선)
  • 생치구이 grilled or roasted pheasant (not 불생치)
  • 석화구이 grilled roasted clams (not 불석화)
  • 양구이 grilled or roasted sheep (not 불양)
  • 장어구이 grilled or roasted eel (not 불장어)
  • 전복구이 grilled or roasted abalone (not 불전복)
  • 조개구이 grilled or roasted oysters (not 불조개)
  • 조기구이 grilled or roasted croaker (not 불조기)
So, the pure Korean word for "roasted" seems to be 구이, not 불. And that strongly suggests that the 불 in 불고기 does not originally mean "fire" or "roasted," but rather "red." That would explain why Koreans think of "beef" (red meat) when they hear the word 불고기, not of some other meat, such as fish or chicken.

These days Koreans attach the word 불 (fire) to certain foods to mean "hot" or "spicy," but that is different from "roasted."

Friday, October 25, 2019

When do Korean babies go from "new-born" (신생아) to "infant" (영아)?

ANSWER: At 4 weeks

A new-born baby (신생아 新生兒) is a “new-born baby” for the first 4 weeks of its life. After that, until it is 1-year old, it is an “infant” (영아 嬰兒). From 1 up to 6 years old, it is a “preschool child” (유아 乳兒). And from 6 to 12 years old, it is a “preadolescent child” (아동 兒童). From 12 to 19 years old, it is an "adolescent child" (소년 少年 or 청소년 靑少年). And from 20 to 64 years old, it is an “adult” (어른). From 65 years old until whenever, it is a “senior citizen” (노인).
The above is just my general interpretation of the information provided in the pages shown below, which are taken from the book shown below. Certain laws and regulations in Korea define some of the terms slightly differently, something that is explained in the book.
The guy who wrote the book is the same guy who wrote the THIS BOOK. As for my using "it" in my description, feel free to substitute your preferred pronouns.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

What's the difference between 왔어요 and 왔었어요?

ANSWER: one means "came" and the other means "came (and went)" 

This morning I picked up the book pictured below and read the article also pictured below. The article talks about the difference between 왔어요 and 왔었어요, and gives the following two example sentences to help show the difference:
  1. "아까 친구가 왔어요." 
  2. "아까 친구가 왔었어요." 
The article says the first sentence means "A friend came a little while ago (and is still here or maybe not)," and the second sentence means "A friend came a little while ago, (but is no longer here). The article says the first sentence is in the past tense and the second is in the past perfect tense. 

But a man named Lee Su-yeol (이수열) claims that "past perfect" is alien to Korea and has been adopted into Korean from English. Instead of saying, "아까 친구가 왔었어요," Mr. Lee claims Koreans would traditionally say, "아까 친구가 왔다 갔어요," which translates as, "A friend came and left a little while ago." 

Even the KBS research team, the people who wrote the book, explained that "아까 친구가 왔었어요" means "아까 친구가 왔다가 돌아갔다," which translates as "A friend came and left a little while ago." In other words, the KBS team used a sentence that Koreans clearly understand to explain a sentence many Koreans apparently do not understand. 

So, if you disagree with Mr. Lee's claim that the past perfect tense is alien to Korea, then why is the KBS book explaining 왔었어요 instead of 왔다 갔어요?

Finally, which sentence is correct and why? 
  1. "우리 전에 본 적이 있었죠." 
  2. "우리 전에 본 적이 있죠." 
Sentence (2) is correct because "우리 전에 본 적이 있다" translates as "We've met before," which means the sentence is already in the past tense and, therefore, does not need the past tense tag "었죠." 

The first sentence seems to be imitating the English-style tag question: "We've met before, haven't we?" But Koreans just say, "We've met before, right?" as in the second sentence. 

So, it seems English grammar is influencing Korean grammar. 

Sunday, October 20, 2019

How does Korean poet Kim So-yeon (김소연) define "moon" (달)?

"변해가는 모든 모습에서 '예쁘다'라는 말을 들어온 유일무이한 존재."

"In all its states of change, the one and only entity that has heard the word '예쁘다'"

예쁘다 can translate as "pretty," "beautiful," or "lovely."

The above Korean and the page below come from Korean poet Kim So-yeon's book "Dictionary of Single Words" ("한 글자 사전"). The English translation is mine. 

Saturday, October 19, 2019

What does "뱃사람의 계집은 뱃사람다워야 한다" mean?

ANSWER: "The wife of a sailor must be like a sailor."

In the expression "뱃사람의 계집은 뱃사람다워야 한다," the word 뱃사람 means sailor, literally boat (배) person (사람); the word 계집 can mean either woman, wife, or mistress; the word -답다 attaches to nouns and means to be like; and the ending -어야 한다 means must.
The expression means a wife should adopt the ways of her husband. To help better explain the expression, here is a story:
A maiden (처녀) of a poor but noble family (“yangban” 양반)) married a sailor (뱃사람). The food, clothing, and customs of her husband’s life were naturally different from those of her yangban family (친정), but she became comfortable with the customs of sailors.
The labor pains (진통) started sometime before the sailor’s wife was ready to give birth (출산). During a difficult birth (난산) in a yangban’s house, if the wife grabs hold of her husband’s topknot (상투) and pulls hard, the baby slides out easily, but that is not the custom of sailors. Instead, sailors sit next to their wives and repeatedly sing part of a song sailors sing as they struggle together to pull in a fishing net: “어기여차, 어기여차, 어기여차,” which translates in English as "Heave-ho! Heave-ho! Heave-ho!

The story comes from the following book. The rough English translation is mine.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Can this poem be translated into Korean?

ANSWER: Probably, but I have not tried to do it, yet.

"Not What It Seems"

In dark sunshine, I'm blind to all I see.
To still winds, I shout out my silent pleas.
Alone in crowds, sadness laughs inside me.
In sweet loneliness, dry tears wet my sleeves.

by Gerry Bevers

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Where does the Korean word 시달리다 come from?

The Korean word 시달리다 means “to suffer from,” “to be afflicted with,” or “to be harassed by.” It usually follows a noun that has either 에 (for things) or 에게 (for people and animals) attached to it. Dong-a’s Prime Dictionary gives the following usage examples:
  • 병에 시달리다 suffer from disease
  • 가난에 시달리는 사람 a person suffering from poverty, a poverty-stricken person
  • 남편에게 시달리다 be mistreated by one’s husband
  • 빚에 시달리다 be harassed by debts
Though I guess 시달리다 could be considered as an adapted pure Korean word, the word actually comes from the name of a forest in central India named “Sitavana,” which means “Cold (Sita) Forrest (Vana). In Chinese characters, the pronunciation of the Indian name is represented as 尸陀林 (시다림). The 림 (林) character in the Chinese means "forest." Anyway, this “Cold Forrest” (尸陀林 시다림), which I understand is also be a Buddhist term, was located outside the North Gate of a walled city in central India named Rajgir (王舍城 왕사성). The people there would take the corpses of those who died in the city into the Cold Forest and leave them there, making the forest a kind of public cemetery. 
Practicing Buddhist monks would go into the Cold Forrest, apparently, to give the dead there Buddhist funerals. It was obviously not a pleasant duty, but they did it in spite of the smell of the rotting corpses, the disease, and the carrion-eating birds. In other words, they suffered the hardships of that place as a way to cultivate their understanding of their religious teachings. 
So, that is supposedly the origin of the Korean word 시달리다 since, I guess, the noun form of 시달리다 would be 시달림, similar to the Chinese name for the forest. The story I told above is only my interpretation of what is written on the book page below. The page comes from a 552-page book written by a Mr. Lee Jae-un (이재운), who writes in the book about the origins of Korean words and phrases. If I could afford the 28,000 won asking price for the book, I would probably buy it because it looks pretty cool. But since I cannot afford it, I thought I would post about the book here, in case there are some here who can afford it. You can get more information (in Korean) on the book HERE.

What does the Korean proverb "공자 앞에서 문자 쓴다" really mean?

ANSWER: "Pretending to know when one knows nothing, like loudly showing off what little one knows in front of a well-educated person like Confucius"
공자 (孔子) is the Korean pronunciation of "Confucius" (551 B.C. to 479 B.C.), the name of the Chinese philosopher. 앞에서 means "in front of," and 쓰다 means "to write."
The word 문자 (文字) has two meanings, one is "letters" or "characters" (글자) and the other is "idiomatic phrases from the Chinese classics" (한자 숙어 / 고사성어), so in the context of the above proverb, 문자 could probably mean either one, but I am going to use the second one.
So, "공자 앞에서 문자 쓴다" literally translates as "[He/She] is writing Classical Chinese idioms in front of Confucius."
But the meaning of the proverb does not really have anything to do with Confucius or any other "master." It is normally just used to sarcastically refer to someone who is using big words or difficult expressions to show off or to try to make people believe one is smarter than one really is. If you drop the "공자 앞에서" part and just say or write "문자(를) 쓴다," Koreans should know what you mean.
Here is the Korean definition of the proverb "공자 앞에서 문자 쓴다," as written on page 383 in the book shown below. The translation is mine:
"공자처럼 학식이 많은 사람 앞에서 조금 아는 것을 자랑삼아 떠드는 것 처럼, 아무것도 모르면서 아는 척한다는 뜻" 
"Pretending to know when one knows nothing, like loudly showing off what little one knows in front of a well-educated person like Confucius"

Saturday, October 12, 2019

What is the old pure-Korean word for "turtle"?


Last night I was reading about how Koreans mispronounce "담임" (擔任) when referring to the "homeroom teachers" of their kids in primary and secondary schools. The entry in the book I was reading said that instead of pronouncing the word as "다밈," the correct pronunciation, Koreans tend to say "다님" because they do not like pronouncing the same consonant sounds (밈) that close together. It said that in linguistics the phenomenon is referred to as 이화 (異化), which translates as "dissimilation."

Anyway, when talking about dissimilation, it gave an example of a pure Korean word that was originally written with two consonant sounds close together but has since changed over time. The example was the pure Korean word for "turtle," 거북, originally written as "거붑." Can you imagine saying "거부비" (거붑이) or "거부불" (거붑을) instead of "거부기" (거북이) or "거부글" (거북을)?

So, instead of saying "poop" or "boop" (붑), Koreans apparently over time starting pronouncing the second ㅂ as ㄱ, resulting in 거북.

Here is the book I was reading:

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

How does Korean poet Kim So-yeon define the word 씨?

Korean poet Kim So-yeon, famous for her "Dictionary of the Mind" (마음 사전), has written a new dictionary entitled "Dictionary of Single Words" (한 글자 사전). Here is one entry from the dictionary; the English translation is mine:
그 안에 무엇이 들어 있는지
쪼개어 알아내는 것이 아니라
심고 물을 주어 알아내는 것

To find out what's inside,
it is not something you split open;
To find out what's inside,
it is something you plant and water.

"Dictionary of Single Words"

Sunday, September 29, 2019

If "girlfriend" is 여자 친구, how do you say "female friend" in Korean?

ANSWER: 구, which is abbreviated to 여사친

In English, the word "girlfriend" implies a romantic relationship, especially if the relationship is between a man and a woman, but "female friend" does not. In Korean, 여자 친구 translates as "girlfriend," and 여자 사람 친구, which literally means "female person friend," translates as "female friend." Of course, 여자 사람 친구 is too long for the average Korean teenager, so they have abbreviated it to 여사친, formed using the first syllable of each word.

Likewise, "boyfriend" implies a romantic relationship, but "male friend" does not, so Koreans would say 남자 친구 if there was a romantic relationship and 남자 사람 친구, or just 남사친, if there was not.

Monday, September 09, 2019

Would you like to know a secret tip for learning Korean?

Get a good Korean-English print dictionary and read it. I like "Dong-a's Prime." Two great things about reading a dictionary is that you don't have to look things up, and you don't have to start from the beginning. It is perfect for those long bathroom breaks.

Everything in a Korean-English dictionary is worth learning, if your plan is to become fluent in Korean. There is so much more in a Korean-English dictionary than many people may realize. For example, you might know the first definition of a word in the dictionary, but do you know its second, third, fourth, or fifth definitions? Are you paying attention to the words and phrases in the backets […] of a definition? Are you paying attention to the word's Chinese characters? If you are not, then you missing a great deal of information.

What's the opposite of 다가오다?

ANSWER: 다와가다

가다 means "to go," and 오다 means to come." One of the differences between Korean and English is that if your friend asked you in English, "Are you coming?" you could answer, "Yes, I'm coming," but in Korean you would have to answer, "Yes, I'm going" (응, 간다), not "Yes, I'm coming" (응, 온다).

다가오다 means someone or something is "coming near you" but is not there, yet. So, if you are on your way to visit a Korean friend and your friend calls you on your cell phone and asks, "다가오니?" it means "Are you almost here?" You cannot answer your friend by saying, "응, 다가온다" since you are still headed toward your friend and must, therefore, use 가다, not 오다. Instead, you could say, "응, 다와간다," meaning "Yes, I'm almost there." In written Korean, you would have to write it as "다 와 간다" since it is still considered a phrase, not a single word.

So, where does the "와" in "다와가다" come from? Here is my theory:

If you had just arrived at your destination when your Korean friend called and asked, "다가오니? ("Are you almost here?"), then you would have answered, "응, 다 왔어," which literally means "Yes, I've come (all the way)" but would be translated into English as "Yes, I'm here." Since you had arrived at your destination and were no longer "going toward it," you could no longer say 다와간다 since it uses the word 가다 (to go).

So, 다와간다 means you are near your destination but are still headed toward it, and 다 왔다 means you have arrived at your destination. That suggests that 다와간다 is a shortened version of "(거의) 다 와서 (아직) 간다," literally meaning "I've come all the way, but am still going."

So, what about the "가" in "다가오다"? Is it a shorted version of "(거의) 다 가서 (아직) 온다," literally meaning "He has gone all the way, but is still coming?"

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

What does 과공비례 (過恭非禮) mean?

ANSWER: "being too polite is impolite"

The following story is used to teach that sometimes “being too polite or deferential (과공 過恭) is impolite (비례 非禮).”
As her daughter’s wedding draws near, a mother instructs her daughter on the proper respect to show her in-laws:
Mother: “Even though they are younger than you, you must always use “nim”(님) to show respect. So, address your sister-in-law’s husband as “Seobang-nim” (서방님) and your unmarried brother-in-law as “Doryeon-nim” (도련님). And never yell at them in front of adults. In fact, don’t even yell at the animals, like the dogs and pigs, in front of adults. Do you understand?”
Daughter: “Yes, mam.”
A few days after the wedding, the new daughter-in-law is outside when the family dog attacks and kills a chicken. On hearing the commotion, the mother-in-law comes outside and asks what happened. The daughter-in-law answers as follows:

“갯님이 닭님을 물어 닭님이 돌아가셨어요.”
“The honorable dog bit the honorable chicken, and the honorable chicken passed away.”

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

What does 경진무과 mean?

ANSWER: 1460 Military Service Exam
In the 6th year of King Sejo (1460), an unusually large number of people (1,800) passed the Military Service Exam (무과 武科) in Pyeongyang, suggesting that standards had been lowered that year. After that, people would make fun of soldiers who couldn’t ride a horse very well or shoot an arrow straight by saying that they must have taken the “1460 Exam” (경진무과 庚辰武科).
Using the 60-year-cycle calendar, 경진 (庚辰) refers to the year 1460, and 무과 (武科) refers to the Military Service Exam.

Today the expression is still used to make fun of soldiers and public officials who mess up.

Naver Dictionary

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

What's the difference between 밥맛이 없다 and 밥맛없다?

ANSWER: One means you are not hungry; the other means you can't stand someone.

밥 means "boiled rice" or "food," and 맛 means "taste," so 밥맛 literally means "food taste." That means 밥맛이 있다 literally means "The food tastes good," and 밥맛이 없다 literally means "The food tastes bad," which usually translates as "I'm not hungry," or "I have no appetite."

Even though the subject marker (이 or 가) is often dropped in spoken Korean, you should keep the 이 and say "밥맛이 없다" when you want to say, "I'm not hungry," because 밥맛없다, without the 이, means you do not like someone and do not want to associate with him or her. For example, if a girlfriend is trying to set you up with a guy you do not like, you could say, "그 남자가 밥맛없다," which can translate as "I can't stand that guy." However, if you were to say, "그 남자가 밥맛이 없대," then you would be saying, "He said he is not hungry."

In the United States, when we are eating and then see something so disgusting that it causes us not to want to eat anymore, we sometimes say, "I just lost my appetite." Also, if we are eating and someone at the dinner table does or says something we do not like, we sometimes show our displeasure by saying, "I've just lost my appetite," and then get up and leave the table. The Korean expression 밥맛없다 is also used to express one's displeasure.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

What's the difference between 매우 어렵게 and 어렵사리?

ANSWER: There is no difference in meaning, but one seems easier to say.

My dictionary says that 어렵사리 means "매우 어렵게," which means that it is an adverb that translates as "very difficultly" or "very strenuously," but it does not tell me what "사리" means. I can, of course, guess that 사리 means "very" (매우), but why isn't that definition in my dictionary?

My dictionary also says that the word 쉽사리 means "아주 쉽게," which means that it is an adverb that means "very easily" or "quite easily." So, the 사리 in both 쉽사리 and 어렵사리 seems to mean either 매우 or 아주, both of which can translate as "very."

Anyway, why isn't there a definition for -사리 in my dictionary? I suspect it is because scholars are still unsure of the origin of -사리 and are, therefore, not confident enough to list it as a suffix meaning "very," especially since it seems to only be used to make adverbs out of 어렵다 and 쉽다.

So, why do some Koreans prefer to say 어렵사리 and 쉽사리 instead of 매우 어렵게 and 아주 쉽게? I am not sure, but 어렵사리 and 쉽사리 do seem to roll off the tongue much easier than 매우 어렵게 and 아주 쉽게.

By the way, I found it interesting that my dictionary used 매우 with 어렵게 and 아주 with 쉽게 to define 어렵사리 and 쉽사리. I am not sure of the difference between 매우 and 아주, but, for some reason, 아주 쉽게 sounds more natural than 매우 쉽게." I am not sure if 매우 어렵게 sounds more natural than 아주 어렵게, or if there is a difference in meaning, but it makes me wonder what slight difference there might be between 매우 and 아주, something I might write about later.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Is the Chinese character 的 (적) destroying the Korean language?

ANSWER: Maybe not, but Koreans do seem to use it too much.

In his book “우리글 바로쓰기,” the late writer and author Lee O-deok (이오덕) mentioned six Chinese characters that he believed were destroying the Korean language: 的(적), 化(화), 下(하), 再(재), 諸(제), and 對(대).
I disagree with some of what Mr. Lee wrote about the six Chinese characters, but I do think Koreans use 적 (的) way too much. The following is an example from Mr. Lee’s book in which 적 was used five times in just one short sentence in a 1989 Hankyoreh (한겨래) newspaper article talking about a painting:
이 대작은 ‘형식적으로는 추상적이나 내용적으로는 표현주의적’인 추상표현주의 화가의 작품 세계를 단적으로 보여 준다.
Here is Mr. Lee’s rewrite of the sentence:
이 큰 작품은 ‘형식으로는 추상(화)이나 내용으로는 표현주의’인 추상표현주의 화가의 작품 세계를 바로 보여 준다.
Notice that 적 does not appear even once in Mr. Lee’s rewrite of the sentence. Why? Because it is unnecessary. Even 단적(端的)으로 was reduced from a 4-syllable phrase to a 2-syllable one by using the pure Korean word 바로 instead.
However, notice that Mr. Lee also changed “이 대작은” to “이 큰 작품은.” This is one of the times where I disagree with Mr. Lee because 대작 (大作) translates as “a great work” or “masterpiece,” but 큰 작품 could also refer to the physical size of the work, making its meaning less clear.
Anyway, there is a movement in Korea to try to eliminate Chinese characters, or at least as many as possible, from the Korean language, similar to what was done in North Korea, but Mr. Lee did not seem to be that extreme. Here seemed to want to get rid of only the Chinese characters that were unnecessary or that were making it harder for Koreans to understand their own language. For example, he wondered why some Koreans would choose to use the difficult to pronounce and understand 의의(意義) instead of the simpler pure Korean word 뜻. He suggested that some Koreans use difficult words just to show off instead of speaking and writing in the clearest way possible.
Mr. Lee essentially believed that Koreans should write the way they speak, and speak the way they live.

You can click on the 미리보기 (Preview) button on the linked page HERE to get an idea of what Mr. Lee wrote about in his Korean book.