Thursday, August 09, 2007

Is "형편없는 인격자" correct?

I have a great book entitled "한국어용법핸드북," which talks about the Korean language and, especially, the use and misuse of Korean words. I really like the author, Nam Yeong-sin (남영신), who also wrote "나의 한국어 바로 쓰기 노트." I like him because his explanations are very detailed and because he also seems to be genuinely curious about why Koreans say the things they do. If you would like to see what I mean, you can read some of Mr. Nam's stuff HERE.

Of course, as many of you probably know, "Even monkeys fall out of trees" (원숭이도 나무에서 떨어진다), and Mr. Nam is no exception. For example, while reading his essay on 말/말씀, I came across the expression, "형편없는 인격자," which Mr. Nam said was the intended meaning of the expression"사람 같지 않은 사람." However, by choosing to use the word 인격자 ("a man of character" or "a great man") instead of simply using the word 사람 (person), Mr. Nam created an oxymoron since 형편없는 인격자 translates as "a terrible, great man."

The essay 말/말씀 refers to several useful expressions, including the following:
  • 말잔치
  • 말로만
  • 말로 온 동네를 다 겪는다
  • 실천이 따르지 않는 말
  • 말 같지 않은 말
  • 말 뒤에 말이 있다
  • 말 속에 말 들었다
  • 말은 할 탓이다
  • 말은 꾸밀 탓으로 간다
  • 말은 보태고 떡은 뗀다
  • 말이 말을 만든다
  • 말이 말을 문다
  • 말이 씨가 된다
  • 말 안 하면 귀신도 모른다
  • 말은 해야 맛이고, 고기는 씹어야 맛이다
  • 말이 고우면 비지 사러 갔다가 두부 사 가지고 오다
  • 말을 가리다
  • 말을 건네다
  • 말을 꺼내다
  • 말을 내다
  • 말을 돌리다
  • 말을 듣다
  • 말을 맞추다
  • 말을 못하다
  • 말을 받다
  • 말을 삼가다
  • 말을 삼키다
  • 말을 쓰다
  • 말을 앞세우다
  • 말을 조심하다
  • 말을 하다
  • 말로 갚다
  • 말로 사과하다
  • 말로 하다
  • 말로 할 수 없다
  • 말에 화가 나다
  • 말에 뼈가 있다
  • 말이 거칠다
  • 말이 나다
  • 말이 떨어지다
  • 말이 뜨다
  • 말이 되다
  • 말이 많다
  • 말이 무겁다
  • 말이 아니다
  • 말이 아프다
  • 말이 있다
  • 말이 퍼지다
  • 말이 헛나가다
  • 말거리
  • 말결
  • 말곁을 달다
  • 말귀
  • 말길
  • 말꼬
  • 말꼬리
  • 말꾸러기
  • 말끝
  • 말눈치
  • 말다툼
  • 말동무
  • 말막음
  • 말문
  • 말밑천
  • 말벗
  • 말본새
  • 말쏨씨
  • 말썽
  • 말전주
  • 말주변
  • 말추렴
  • 말허리를 꺾다
  • 거짓말
  • 군말
  • 귀엣말
  • 꽃말
  • 낱말
  • 도움말
  • 뒷말
  • 막말
  • 반말
  • 변말
  • 시쳇말
  • 옛말
  • 익은말
  • 잔말
  • 정말
  • 준말
  • 참말


  1. "인격" means "character" or "personality".
    "형편없는 인격자" is kind of abbreviated from "형편없는 인격소유자", which should be translated "a man who has a very poor character".
    On the contrary, "훌륭한 인격자" means "a person of great character".
    "인격자" itself is seldom used without qualifiers like "형편없는" or "훌륭한".

  2. Anonymous,

    The Korean definition for 인격자(人格者) is "훌륭한 인격을 갖춘 사람," which means "a person of excellent character," and that means that 훌륭한 인격자 is redundant. It also means that 형편없는 인격자 is an oxymoron.

    If people are using 인격자 as an abbreviation of 인격소유자, then it is a bad abbreviation, and they should stop using it. Maybe, instead of saying 형편없는 인격자, they could say 인격자 아닌 자, which is even shorter and makes much more sense.

  3. Well, another common appearance of the word "인격자" is in "이중인격자", which means (as you might know already) a "hypocrite" or a "double-dealer".
    Here "이중" literally means "two" or "double". So it's another abbreviation of "이중인격(소유)자".
    There's another term "다중인격자", which means "a person of multiple personality" and usually refers a mental condition. Again, "다중" means "multiple" here.

    Expression like "그는 인격자이다" is not common, which according to your theory should mean "he is a man of great character"; Korean people rather use "그는 훌륭한 인격자이다" if they intend to say that "he has a great personality".

  4. Annonymous,

    In English, we can praise a man by saying "He is a man of character." Here is a definition:

    character - good repute; "he is a man of character" reputation, repute - the state of being held in high esteem and honor

    Notice that "a man of character" is defined as "a man of good reputation." In Korean, it is translated as 인격자.

    As I have already said, I think it is redundant to say 훌륭한 인격자, but maybe it is similar to the English expression, "a man of exceptional character," which refers to a man of unusually high character? Therefore, maybe I can concede to the expression 훌륭한 인격자.

    As for 이중인격자 and 다중인격자, I think they are different from 훌륭한 인격자 since they are new, specialized words, not a word modified by an adjective.

    Anyway, it is interesting to ponder these things. Thank you.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.