Friday, August 17, 2018

Why would a Korean woman named 말숙 probably have a sister?

The Chinese character 淑 (숙) is pronounced "sook" in Korean and means clear, pure, or virtuous. For example, 숙녀 (淑女) means a lady, and 정숙 (貞淑) means chaste or virtuous, so many Korean parents have used 淑 (숙) as one of the usually two characters used to create the names of daughters.

Han Moo-sook (한무숙 - 韓戊淑), for example, was a famous Korean female writer who lived from 1918 until 1993. She had an elder brother named Han Bok (한복 - 韓宓) and a younger sister named Han Mal-sook (한말숙 - 韓末淑), who was also a writer. The younger sister's name, 말숙 (末淑), means "the last (末) Sook (淑)," which implies the last daughter since 淑 (숙) is a common character used in the names of daughters.

If Korean parents name a daughter 말숙 (末淑), it means they want no more daughters, but it also implies the parents are disappointed they had another daughter instead of a son, which is why I would never name a daughter 말숙 (末淑).

Thursday, August 16, 2018

What does 토설 (吐舌) mean?

토설 (吐舌) literally means "spit/vomit (吐) [one's] tongue (舌)," but it seems to have been the Sino-Korean equivalent of 혀를 차다, which usually translates as click one's tongue, a sign of disapproval in Korea. The sound associated with Korean tongue-clicking is 쯧쯧, which can be placed in front of 혀를 차다 in written Korean for the onomatopoeic effect.

I used to hear a lot of tongue-clicking, or teeth-sucking, in the 1980s when I would walk down the sidewalks of Korea past a group of Korean men, usually older men. The clicking or sucking was so exaggerated that I suspected it was done to show their disapproval of me, a foreigner walking down their streets. By the time I left Korea in 2010, I hardly heard any tongue-clicking, possibly because by then there were so many foreigners walking the streets of Korea that it would have been a burden to try to click at all of them, or more probably because Koreans were just more accepting of foreigners by then.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

What does 명약관화 (明若觀火) mean?

명약관화 (明若觀火) is the Korean equivalent of the English expression "as clear as day," which means to be obvious. The Korean literally translates as follows:
[as] bright/clear (明) as (若) looking (觀) [at] fire (火)

Saturday, August 04, 2018

What does 물경 (勿驚) mean?

勿 (물) can mean either Do not or without, and 경 (驚) means surprise or surprised, so it seems 물경 could mean either Do not be surprised or without surprise. However, according to my Korean-English dictionary, 물경 translates as surprisingly (enough) or It will surprise you (but), which somewhat confusingly suggests that 물경 should be translated as Don't be surprised. In fact, my Korean-Korean dictionary explains it more clearly:
[놀라지 말라는 뜻으로] 엄청난 것을 말할 때 앞세워 이르는 말.
[With the meaning of "Don't be surprised"], it is said before saying something that is surprising or absurd.
Even though it literally translates as "Don't be surprised, [but]," the adverb "surprisingly" seems to be a better translation these days. Here is the example sentence from my Korean-English dictionary:
쌓인 빚이 물경 100만 원이었다.
The debt went on increasing, reaching at last a surprising amount of one million won
I am not sure how often 물경 is used these days, but, instead, I use the adverb 놀랍게도, which seems to be the pure Korean substitute.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

What is 오므라이스?

When I first went to Korea in the U.S. navy in 1977, the first food I ate outside the gate of the army base I was stationed at was something called "omu-rice" (오므라이스), which is essentially a rice omelet. I ate it at what Koreans called a Chinese restaurant, and I liked it. In fact, it became one of my favorite foods to eat in the little Korean village outside the gate.
Forty years later, after graduating with a degree in Korean Language and Literature and living many years in Korea, I learned today for the first time, I think, that the "omu" in omu-rice is actually a Korean reference to "omelet."
It is very possible that I learned the above tidbit about omu-rice sometime in the past, but I cannot remember it. What I can remember very clearly is being excited as I sat at the only window table in a hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant eating my first plate of omu-rice. I was excited because it was one of my first adventures into learning about Korean culture. 

How do you translate "The Time Machine" in Korean?

Today I came across the expression 智者不失時 (지자불실시), which can literally translate as follows: 
"A wise man (智者) does not (不) lose (失) time (時)."
The Korean definition of 失時 (실시) is "때를 놓침," where 때 can mean either "시기(時機) or 기회(機會), both of which can translate as opportunity or chance. Therefore, a better translation of the above expression is probably the following:
"A wise man (智者) does not (不) miss (失) an opportunity (時)."
Notice that 시기 (時機) and 기회 (機會) both include the Chinese character 기 (機), which means machine but can also mean chance or opportunity. If someone knew 機 (기) only to mean machine, then he or she might mistranslate 시기 (時機) as time (時) machine (機).

Koreans translate H. G. Wells' 1895 novella The Time Machine as "타임머신," which is just a bland transliteration of the English title. I wonder why Koreans did not take the time to come up with their own, more interesting descriptive word or phrase for The Time Machine.

Friday, July 27, 2018

내일 또 볼 수 있다? 내일 또 볼 수 있겠다?

HERE, a KBS News report talks about a blood moon and a total lunar eclipse. One thing I find strange about the report is that it is not using -겠- where I would expect to see it, as in the following example:
개기월식을 내일 새벽 또 볼 수 있습니다.
You can see the full lunar eclipse again at dawn tomorrow.
Since the above sentence is talking about the future (at dawn tomorrow), I would expect the Korean sentence to read as follows:
개기월식을 내일 새벽 또 볼 수 있습니다.
You will be able to see the full lunar eclipse again at dawn tomorrow.
I left Korea eight years ago and am forgetting things, but it seems Koreans have changed their style of speech if the above sentence in the news report is correct. Here is the way I remember learning the tenses:

  • 개기월식을 어제 또 볼 수 있었다.
    You were able to see the total lunar eclipse again yesterday.
  • 개기월식을 오늘 또 볼 수 있다.
    You can see the total lunar eclipse again today.
  • 개기월식을 내일 또 볼 수 있겠다.
    You will be able to see the total lunar eclipse again tomorrow.
From what I remember, you can use present tense to talk about future events the speaker has scheduled. For example, 내일 오후에 부산에 갑니다 (Tomorrow I am going to Busan). But in the above sentence from the KBS report, YOU, the subject, have not scheduled the event.

Am I missing something? It has been eight years since I left Korea. Does it become some kind of habit because they use 또?

The KBS news report does the same thing in the following sentences, where there are no 또's:
  • 다음날 새벽 3시 24분부터 달이 지 5시 37분까지 약 1시간 40분 동안 개기월식이 진행됩니다.
    The next day, from 3:24 a.m. until the moon sets at 5:37 a.m., about an hour and forty minutes, the total eclipse is in progress.
  • 특히 31일 화성과 지구가 5,700만 km로 매우 가까워지는 화성대접근이 일어납니다.
    On the 31st, especially, the Mars Close Approach occurs when the Earth and Mars are at their closest at 57 million kilometers.
  • 가장 멀 때보다 거리는 1/7로 준 대신, 크기는 7배가 커지고 16배 밝아집니다.
    From when it is farthest away, the distance is 1/7th less; it is 7 times bigger and 16 times brighter.
The KBS reporter seems to be using present tense to describe the actions and events because he or she wants to treat them as regularly occurring events. For example, "The sun rises in the east" (해가 동쪽에서 든다) is a regular occurring event, so the present tense is used instead of the future tense, but when you use words like 내일 (tomorrow), you are no longer talking about something as a regular occurring event. How can you see a total eclipse tomorrow on a regular basis? It will only occur tomorrow, not the next tomorrow.

Fortunately, the astronomer quoted in the article does use the future tense to describe the event:
 "남동쪽 하늘에서 밤 10시쯤에 관측 가능한 붉게 빛나는 천체가 화성이 되겠습니다."
"The reddish heavenly body in the southeast sky at about 10 o'clock at night will be Mars."
By the way, 개기월식 (皆旣月蝕) literally means "All (皆旣) the moon (月) has been nibbled away (蝕)."

Thursday, July 26, 2018

What is "pillow wood"?

Answer: railroad cross tie

In the past, Koreans used to sleep on wooden pillows, believe it or not. The Korean word for wooden pillow is 목침 (木枕). 목(木) means wood or wooden, and 침(枕) means pillow. If you reverse the order of the two Chinese characters in wooden pillow (木枕), you get the word  침목 (枕木), which literally translates as pillow wood but means railroad cross tie. It seems Koreans, or someone, visualized railroad cross ties as wooden pillows for the steel rails that lay on them.

The first two photos show two different kinds of wood pillows, and the third photo shows railroad cross ties.

Wooden Pillow (목침 - 木枕)

Wooden Pillow (목침 - 木枕)

Railroad Cross Ties (침목 - 枕木)

Sunday, July 22, 2018

What is a sweet, flat peach?

Answer: an almond

The Korean word for almond is 편도 (扁桃), which literally means flat (扁) peach (桃). Why a peach? Because an almond looks very much like the seed inside a peach pit. A 감편도 (甘扁桃) is a sweet (甘) almond (扁桃), which is the kind people normally eat since the bitter almond (苦扁桃 - 고편도) is toxic. Another name for almond is 감복승아, which literally means sweet (감 - 甘) peach (복승아). However, these days many Koreans seem to prefer to use the word 아몬드, which is just the Korean transliteration of the English word.

By the way, the Korean word for tonsils is 편도선 (扁桃腺), which literally translates as almond (扁桃) glands (腺). That is because tonsils supposedly look like almonds.


Tuesday, July 17, 2018

What's the difference between 티푸스 and 장티푸스?

티푸스 is the Korean transliteration of the English word typhus, which is an infectious disease spread by the bites of such insects as lice, chiggers, and fleas. 장티푸스 (腸티푸스) literally translates as intestinal typhus but means typhoid fever, which is different from typhus or typhus fever.

The bacterium that causes typhoid fever grows in the intestines and blood and is spread by eating or drinking food or water contaminated with the feces of an infected person. The fact that the bacterium for typhoid fever grows in the intestines is most likely the reason the Chinese character for intestines, 腸 (장), is added to the word 티푸스 to form 장티푸스.

Many Koreans seem to confuse 티푸스 and 장티푸스 since they often use 장티푸스 (typhoid fever) to also refer to 티푸스 (typhus).

Another word for typhoid fever is 염병 (染病), which can also mean infectious disease or epidemic since it is a shortened form of 전염병 (傳染病). Also, the Korean word for fever is 열병 (熱病), which is sometimes used to refer to typhoid fever since a fever is obviously one of the symptoms; however, 열병 is a general term that is also sometimes used to refer to such diseases and illnesses as malaria, typhus, and pneumonia, all of which also have symptoms that include a high fever.