Thursday, January 27, 2005

What does 놀려 먹는다 mean?

Today, I came across the following expression:

"아이들이 그를 병신이라고 놀려 먹는다. "

The sentence caught my attention because 놀려 먹는다 just seemed a little strange for some reason. I think I have probably heard the expression before, but it still seemed strange. However, one expression I have heard quite often is, 잊어 먹었다, which means, "I completely forgot."

When the ending, 어/아/여 먹다, is attached to a verb stem, it emphasizes the action of the verb. Therefore, one translation of the above sentence might be as follows:

"The children mercilessly tease him, calling him a 'freak.'"
In the above sentence, I used the adverb, "mercilessly," to translate 어 먹는다.

By the way, the expression 잊어 버렸다 means the same as 잊어 먹었다, but 잊어 버렸다 is considered more refined. The ending, 어 먹는다, is considered somewhat crude.

---------------------- Update 1 -------------------------

I am wondering if the above sentence can also be translated as follows?
"The children tease him by calling him 'stupid,' and then eat him."
---------------------- Update 2 ------------------------

If I really wanted to say, without confusion, that "the children eat the guy," I would have to rewrite the Korean as follows:
아이들이 그를 병신이라고 놀려 먹는다
Notice that I added a to 어 to avoid confusing it with the auxillary connector 어. The phrase 놀려서 먹는다 means "tease and then eat," but the phrase 놀려 먹는다 means, "tease [excessively]."

Always include the 서 with the conjuction 어/아/여(서) to avoid any confusion.


  1. Your blog is great.

    I too often hear the verb "잊어먹다", usually from my students. Along the same lines is "까먹다", usually with "깜빡" added to form "깜빡 까먹었다" - "I completely forgot / It totally slipped my mind". This has a nice ring to it, with all the double consonants. 까먹다 means "to peel and eat". Check out 깜빡 in the dictionary, it's hard to explain. As an aside, I can't find the Korean word for "double consonant" in the dictionary. I assumed it was 쌍자음 or 쌍 자음, but nothing at or

  2. I think 병신 is better translated as "retard" (or for the PC, "mentally disabled". It's usually used as an insult to call someone an idiot. Like when you say, 너 병신이냐?! that means, "Are you stupid" and not "Are you a freak?"

  3. Anonymous,

    I think ㄲ, ㄸ, ㅃ, ㅆ, ㅉ can be called 쌍자음, so I do not understand why it is not in the dictionary. Those consonants are also called 겹글자. 겹 means "double," and 글자 means "letter." Individually, they are 쌍기역, 쌍디귿, 쌍비읍, 쌍시옷, and 쌍지읒. If they come at the end of a syllable, as in 닦다, then they are called 쌍받침.

  4. Tae Kim,

    병신 can mean both "mentally retarded" or "physically deformed." As you said, Koreans seem to use the word more often to mean "retarded" or "stupid." I used the word, "freak," in an attempt to include both meanings.

    By the way, people should avoid using 병신 since it is not a socially accepted word. Nevertheless, one can hear the word quite often. Here is one common insult that uses 병신.

    병신 육갑하네

    The above insult is a play on words. Besides meaning "retarded," 병신 represents one of the sixty years in the sexagenary cycle, which in Korean is called 육갑.

  5. If translating when the translation mattered and wasn't playing "lets see how literal we can be" games, I'd just say they tease or perhaps enjoy teasing him.

    There are so many things that you can stick 먹다 at the end of, even action verbs like 놀리다. You might say 해먹다 about a meal, but you could also say it about something you're doing, like your job when it's tough (나 도저히 못 해먹겠어!) and the list goes on and on.

  6. Oranckay,

    해먹다 is an interesting word, but it is not an example of the 어/아/여 먹다 ending I first mentioned in this post. Rather, it is an example of the meaning I used in the "tease him and eat him" joke.

    As you know, the suffix 어/ㅏ/여(서) can be used to link two verbs and show that the action of the first verb precedes that of the second. 해먹다 is a word that probably developed from the phrase, 해서 먹다, which means "cook [it] and then eat [it.]" The 놀려 먹는다 in my Korean sentence is not using the 어(서) in this context.

  7. Try 중자음, 복자음 or 된소리

  8. "Playing 'lets see how literal we can be' games" ought to be the first step in any decent translation. There are many ways to tease someone, some relatiely innocuous, others downright nasty. Orankay's aloof "they enjoy teasing him" fails to convey the same depth of meaning as the original.

  9. Anonymous,

    중자음 and 복자음 are used to refer to two "different" consonants coming together, such as ㄺ and ㄶ, but ㄲ, ㄸ, ㅃ, ㅆ, and ㅉ are the same consonants. When two of the same consonants come together, the prefix 쌍- is usually used, as in 쌍받침. 있다 and 닦다 have 쌍받침, but 읽다 and 않다 have 겹받침.

    As for the word 된소리, it is referring to the sound, not the letters. Therefore, I think we would have to say 된소리 자음, or something.

    I think the proper term is 겹글자; however, why is 겹 used to mean the "same letters" coming together in 겹글자 and "different letters" coming together in 겹받침? Another mystery of Korean, I guess.