Friday, January 28, 2005

What does 등에 업다 mean?

I came across this long, complicated sentence today, and noticed an expression that I find a little strange. Focus on the part in red.
평론가들의 번지르르한 평을 등에 업고 서점에서 선량한 독자를 유혹하고 있는 수많은 소설과 수필을 보면서 가끔 우리 작가와 평론가들이 독자들을 상대로 부정직한 노름을 하고 있다는 생각을 한다.

Looking in the bookstores at all the novels and essays using the glowing praises of book reviewers to seduce naive readers, I sometimes think that the authors and book reviewers are in cahoots to deal readers a dirty hand.
등에 업다 means "to carry (a person, a pack, etc.) on one's back." One idiomatic meaning of this expression is "to rely on a person's authority, influence, or power." The above quote is using the idiomatic meaning of the expression to say that the authors are relying on the influence of the book reviewers to sell their books.

Okay. I understand the idiomatic meaning of 등에 업다, but does it really make sense? Think about it for a second. The authors are carrying the praises of the book reviewers on their backs. In other words, the authors are the ones carrying the burden, not the book reviewers, right? So if the authors are carrying the burden, wouldn't it be the book reviewers who are relying on the authors, not vice versa?

Okay, so what is my point? Well, I do not have a point, except to say that I find the idiom a little strange.

By the way, the idiom 등에 업다 means the same as 등대다.


  1. wouldn't this idiom be similar to an old american one, something along the lines of "ride on the coat tail of..."? to my understanding this expression is based on an old fashion (literal fashion in terms of style of clothes) where the elite socialites would wear coats that were very extended in the back, appearing like a tail. The people behind them would then just follow directly behind to make it appear that they were with the group and part of the elite social community. examples of this are often shown in older american cartoonsm like tom and jerry. Following this idea, the idea of riding on the coat tail was to indicate that you were continuing off the glory of the person ahead, although you were not officially part of it.

  2. Anonymous,

    In the expression, "ride on the coattails of," the person with the coattails is the one with the influence, and the person doing the riding is the person without the influence. In the expression, 등에 업다, the person "riding on the back" is the person with the influence, which, to my way of thinking, is backwards.

    등대다 means the same as 등에 업다, but in the case of 등대다, I can see the logic in its meaning. 대다 means "to lean," and 등대다 probably comes from 등을 대다, which means "to lean one's back against." Therefore, 평론가들의 평에 등대다 could translate as, " use the critiques of the book reviewers to support oneself."

    To use the critiques as support makes sense to American English speakers, but to carry the critiques on one's back would probably be considered a burden, not a benefit.

  3. Hi,

    I made the first comment yesterday regarding the "동사 + 먹다" structure. Sorry, but this is off topic - I couldn't find your email address. I live on Jeju and am learning the dialect. I would very much like to get in contact with others who share the same interest and am hoping you might know of someone I could speak to or could make a relevant post to elicit responses from those interested. My name is Rich, my email is Thanks for your time.

  4. Hi Rich,

    My email address is as follows:

    If you want to communicate with other people interested in the Korean language, I recommend the following sites:

    * Korean as a Second Language (approx. 1020 members)

    * 한국어 연습장 (A great site to practice your writing.)

    * Kangmi (A good site for beginners)

    * Seoul Social Group Meetup (I think these people actually meet.)

    I am sure there must be others, but those are the only ones I know about.

    Anytime, you would like to discuss the language, just send me an email.

  5. In case you are interested, Rich, I just stumbled onto the following group tonight:

    Korean ICQ Group


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