Wednesday, October 19, 2005

What does 칠거지악(七去之惡) mean?

In Chosun Korea, which was heavily influenced by Confucian thinking, there were seven legitimate reasons for throwing your wife out of the house. Here they are:
  1. Failing to attend to the needs of her inlaws
  2. Being incapable of bearing children
  3. Engaging in lewd behaviour
  4. Showing jealousy
  5. Having a serious disease
  6. Talking too much
  7. Stealing

Koreans refer to these "seven evils" as 칠거지악(七去之惡), "the seven evils for expulsion." The individual meanings of the Chinese characters are as follows:

  • 七(칠) seven
  • 去(거) expulsion
  • 之(지) for, of
  • 惡(악) evil

The order of the Chinese characters in the expression seems a little strange to me. If I did not know its meaning, I might translate it as "the seven expulsions of evil," which sounds like it might be some form of exorcism.

I recognize a fair number of Chinese characters (한자), but I do not really know how to read 한문(漢文), which refers to sentences and writings written in Chinese characters. To understand 한문, one must not only be able to recognize Chinese characters, but must also know the grammar used to combine the characters in a sentence. For example, the 지 in 칠거지악 functions as a grammar element.

One of these days I am going to put aside some time to learn 한문. I think it would be worthwhile.


  1. "seven expulsions of evil" would be 악지칠거.

  2. I do not know who you are Mr.Anonymous, but you have spurred my interest into learning the mysteries behind 한문.

    Right now it is as confusing as heck, but you just wait. One of these days, I will figure out the grammar code that explains why 칠거지악 means "the seven evils for expulsion," and 악지칠거 means "the seven expulsions of evil."

    For now all I know is that I hate 之(지), which seems to offer a variety of grammatical functions. Hopefully, one day I will come to appreciate it.

  3. 지 (之) in Classical Chinese (and therefore in 한문) is an attributive or possessive particle; A 之 B can mean "A's B" = "the B of A", or more generally "B which has the quality of A" or "B of which A is the case". A wide variety of semantic relationships can be expressed by this grammatical structure. A literal translation of 칠거지악 is something like "the seven evil (behaviors) for which expulsion (is warranted)".


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