Monday, September 21, 2009

Should Koreans say 세겹살 instead of 삼겹살?

삼겹살 are cuts of pork from around the ribs, which is an area that includes layers of fat (비계). When cut into strips, the strips show what generally look to be three layers of fat and meat, which is why Koreans call it 삼겹살. The name 삼겹살 literally means "three layers of meat." It looks like bacon except that it is usually cut into thicker strips and is not cured or smoked.

Actually, the name 삼겹살 violates Korean language rules, which say that Sino-Korean numbers should not be used with pure Korean words. 삼(三) is the Sino-Korean number for "three," and 겹살 is a pure Korean word meaning "layers of meat"; therefore, the correct name should be 세겹살 since 세 is the pure Korean number for "three." In fact, up until the early eighties, Koreans commonly referred to it as 세겹살. (See this Korean ARTICLE.)

Korean dictionaries still list 세겹살 as a synonym for 삼겹살, so if you are a purist and want to mess with the minds of Korean restaurant employees, order 세겹살 the next time you visit a Korean meat restaurant.


  1. Haha, I'm gonna have to try ordering "세겹살" sometime

  2. It's a good article. :) I don't have known it, even if I am Korean.

  3. So, Gary: rather than "오겹살", should I be asking for "닷겹살"?

  4. Frederic,

    Maybe 닷겹살 would work since there is the word 닷새, which means "five days," but normally 닷 is used only when the following count word starts with ㄴ, ㄷ, or ㅁ, such as 닷 냥, 닷 되, and 닷 말.

    I think a good alternate name for 오겹살 might be 여러겹살 or 여럿겹살, which would mean "many layered meat."

  5. It's amusing that 3월 3일 is "삼겹살 Day" (according to the article you linked to). I know that 11월 11일 is Pepero Day (because of the iconicity: all those "1"s in the date are similar in shape to a Pepero).

    There sure are a lot of unofficial "days" in Korea. Have you ever seen or compiled a list of all of them?

  6. i really like your blog:) as someone who studies the korean language, i find it really interesting and useful. hehe.

    세겹살 ㅋㅋ it sounds awkward to me since i'm used to saying 삼겹살. ㅋ

    i'm wondering why they changed it, too. ㅋ

  7. There isn't a rule that says Sino and Pure Korean words cannot mix to form new ones. In fact, there are plenty of words used in Korean which do not follow this rule - it would be saying that these tons of words would all be violating Korean's rules, which simply is not true.

    While it's true that most often Sino will match to Sino and Pure with Pure, there is no rule for this.

  8. Just because there may be some exceptions, MG, does not mean there is no rule.

  9. But it's not just *some* exceptions, it's thousands of *exceptions* then. Even words that might appear Pure Korean such as 태어나다 are a mixture of Sino with Pure Korean. What about words like "한국" even (if you believe the theory of the origin of the word "한국" as coming from the meaning "Great Country - 한國")? Do these then violate the rules? Unless there is a source from 국립국어원 that says there's actually a rule out there, I'm not inclined to believe it.


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