Tuesday, July 31, 2018

What is 오므라이스?

When I first went to Korea in the U.S. navy in 1977, the first food I ate outside the gate of the army base I was stationed at was something called "omu-rice" (오므라이스), which is essentially a rice omelet. I ate it at what Koreans called a Chinese restaurant, and I liked it. In fact, it became one of my favorite foods to eat in the little Korean village outside the gate.
Forty years later, after graduating with a degree in Korean Language and Literature and living many years in Korea, I learned today for the first time, I think, that the "omu" in omu-rice is actually a Korean reference to "omelet."
It is very possible that I learned the above tidbit about omu-rice sometime in the past, but I cannot remember it. What I can remember very clearly is being excited as I sat at the only window table in a hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant eating my first plate of omu-rice. I was excited because it was one of my first adventures into learning about Korean culture. 

How do you translate "The Time Machine" in Korean?

Today I came across the expression 智者不失時 (지자불실시), which can literally translate as follows: 
"A wise man (智者) does not (不) lose (失) time (時)."
The Korean definition of 失時 (실시) is "때를 놓침," where 때 can mean either "시기(時機) or 기회(機會), both of which can translate as opportunity or chance. Therefore, a better translation of the above expression is probably the following:
"A wise man (智者) does not (不) miss (失) an opportunity (時)."
Notice that 시기 (時機) and 기회 (機會) both include the Chinese character 기 (機), which means machine but can also mean chance or opportunity. If someone knew 機 (기) only to mean machine, then he or she might mistranslate 시기 (時機) as time (時) machine (機).

Koreans translate H. G. Wells' 1895 novella The Time Machine as "타임머신," which is just a bland transliteration of the English title. I wonder why Koreans did not take the time to come up with their own, more interesting descriptive word or phrase for The Time Machine.

Friday, July 27, 2018

내일 또 볼 수 있다? 내일 또 볼 수 있겠다?

HERE, a KBS News report talks about a blood moon and a total lunar eclipse. One thing I find strange about the report is that it is not using -겠- where I would expect to see it, as in the following example:
개기월식을 내일 새벽 또 볼 수 있습니다.
You can see the full lunar eclipse again at dawn tomorrow.
Since the above sentence is talking about the future (at dawn tomorrow), I would expect the Korean sentence to read as follows:
개기월식을 내일 새벽 또 볼 수 있습니다.
You will be able to see the full lunar eclipse again at dawn tomorrow.
I left Korea eight years ago and am forgetting things, but it seems Koreans have changed their style of speech if the above sentence in the news report is correct. Here is the way I remember learning the tenses:

  • 개기월식을 어제 또 볼 수 있었다.
    You were able to see the total lunar eclipse again yesterday.
  • 개기월식을 오늘 또 볼 수 있다.
    You can see the total lunar eclipse again today.
  • 개기월식을 내일 또 볼 수 있겠다.
    You will be able to see the total lunar eclipse again tomorrow.
From what I remember, you can use present tense to talk about future events the speaker has scheduled. For example, 내일 오후에 부산에 갑니다 (Tomorrow I am going to Busan). But in the above sentence from the KBS report, YOU, the subject, have not scheduled the event.

Am I missing something? It has been eight years since I left Korea. Does it become some kind of habit because they use 또?

The KBS news report does the same thing in the following sentences, where there are no 또's:
  • 다음날 새벽 3시 24분부터 달이 지 5시 37분까지 약 1시간 40분 동안 개기월식이 진행됩니다.
    The next day, from 3:24 a.m. until the moon sets at 5:37 a.m., about an hour and forty minutes, the total eclipse is in progress.
  • 특히 31일 화성과 지구가 5,700만 km로 매우 가까워지는 화성대접근이 일어납니다.
    On the 31st, especially, the Mars Close Approach occurs when the Earth and Mars are at their closest at 57 million kilometers.
  • 가장 멀 때보다 거리는 1/7로 준 대신, 크기는 7배가 커지고 16배 밝아집니다.
    From when it is farthest away, the distance is 1/7th less; it is 7 times bigger and 16 times brighter.
The KBS reporter seems to be using present tense to describe the actions and events because he or she wants to treat them as regularly occurring events. For example, "The sun rises in the east" (해가 동쪽에서 든다) is a regular occurring event, so the present tense is used instead of the future tense, but when you use words like 내일 (tomorrow), you are no longer talking about something as a regular occurring event. How can you see a total eclipse tomorrow on a regular basis? It will only occur tomorrow, not the next tomorrow.

Fortunately, the astronomer quoted in the article does use the future tense to describe the event:
 "남동쪽 하늘에서 밤 10시쯤에 관측 가능한 붉게 빛나는 천체가 화성이 되겠습니다."
"The reddish heavenly body in the southeast sky at about 10 o'clock at night will be Mars."
By the way, 개기월식 (皆旣月蝕) literally means "All (皆旣) the moon (月) has been nibbled away (蝕)."

Thursday, July 26, 2018

What is "pillow wood"?

Answer: railroad cross tie

In the past, Koreans used to sleep on wooden pillows, believe it or not. The Korean word for wooden pillow is 목침 (木枕). 목(木) means wood or wooden, and 침(枕) means pillow. If you reverse the order of the two Chinese characters in wooden pillow (木枕), you get the word  침목 (枕木), which literally translates as pillow wood but means railroad cross tie. It seems Koreans, or someone, visualized railroad cross ties as wooden pillows for the steel rails that lay on them.

The first two photos show two different kinds of wood pillows, and the third photo shows railroad cross ties.

Wooden Pillow (목침 - 木枕)

Wooden Pillow (목침 - 木枕)

Railroad Cross Ties (침목 - 枕木)

Sunday, July 22, 2018

What is a sweet, flat peach?

Answer: an almond

The Korean word for almond is 편도 (扁桃), which literally means flat (扁) peach (桃). Why a peach? Because an almond looks very much like the seed inside a peach pit. A 감편도 (甘扁桃) is a sweet (甘) almond (扁桃), which is the kind people normally eat since the bitter almond (苦扁桃 - 고편도) is toxic. Another name for almond is 감복승아, which literally means sweet (감 - 甘) peach (복승아). However, these days many Koreans seem to prefer to use the word 아몬드, which is just the Korean transliteration of the English word.

By the way, the Korean word for tonsils is 편도선 (扁桃腺), which literally translates as almond (扁桃) glands (腺). That is because tonsils supposedly look like almonds.


Tuesday, July 17, 2018

What's the difference between 티푸스 and 장티푸스?

티푸스 is the Korean transliteration of the English word typhus, which is an infectious disease spread by the bites of such insects as lice, chiggers, and fleas. 장티푸스 (腸티푸스) literally translates as intestinal typhus but means typhoid fever, which is different from typhus or typhus fever.

The bacterium that causes typhoid fever grows in the intestines and blood and is spread by eating or drinking food or water contaminated with the feces of an infected person. The fact that the bacterium for typhoid fever grows in the intestines is most likely the reason the Chinese character for intestines, 腸 (장), is added to the word 티푸스 to form 장티푸스.

Many Koreans seem to confuse 티푸스 and 장티푸스 since they often use 장티푸스 (typhoid fever) to also refer to 티푸스 (typhus).

Another word for typhoid fever is 염병 (染病), which can also mean infectious disease or epidemic since it is a shortened form of 전염병 (傳染病). Also, the Korean word for fever is 열병 (熱病), which is sometimes used to refer to typhoid fever since a fever is obviously one of the symptoms; however, 열병 is a general term that is also sometimes used to refer to such diseases and illnesses as malaria, typhus, and pneumonia, all of which also have symptoms that include a high fever.

What does 사이비 mean?

사이비 (似而非) means pseudo-, quasi-fake, sham, pretended, or would-be. The Chinese characters literally translate as "similar (似) but (而) not (非)."

군자 (君子) or 신사 (紳士) means gentleman, but a 사이비 군자 or 사이비 신사 translates as hypocrite, snob, or would-be gentleman. Here are other examples from "Donga's Prime Korean-English Dictionary":
  • 사이비 기자 - a quasi-reporter
  • 사이비 시인 - a poet manqué
  • 사이비 신자 - a pretended devotee
  • 사이비 종교 - false religion; cult
  • 사이비 철학 - pseudo-philosophy
  • 사이비 학자 - a pretended scholar; charlatan

Monday, July 16, 2018

What does the fruit of the red elderberry tastes like?

I do not know what the fruit of the red elderberry tastes like, but the Korean name for the treelike shrub is 말오줌나무, which translates as "horse piss tree."

The stems, roots, and foliage of the red elderberry are supposedly poisonous and the berries toxic when eaten raw, but, according to Wikipedia, the fruit is reportedly safe to eat when cooked and is used in native American recipes. The shrub has also been used as a medicinal plant, so I can imagine a Korean kid with a cough or cold saying, "Mom, this medicine tastes like horse piss."

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Which Chinese character means "pointed"?

小 (소) means "small," and 大 (대) means "big." Something that is "pointed" is smaller on the top and bigger on the bottom, so the Chinese character that means "pointed" is 尖 (첨), which translates in Korean as 뾰족한.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

What's a "tongue box"?

The Korean word for "drawer" is 서랍, which comes from the Chinese 舌盒 (설합). 舌 (설) means "tongue," and 盒 (합) means "box," so the Chinese apparently thought that a drawer looked like a tongue sticking out from a box.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

A 3-inch nose?

The following is an old Korean proverb:
 "My nose is three inches" (내 코 석 자다).
Of course, the proverb means, "I'm too busy dealing with my own situation to have time to deal with those of others."

What? You don't get it? Well, maybe it would help if you read the 4-character Chinese version:
吾鼻三尺 (오비삼척) 
My (吾) nose (鼻) [is] three (三) inches (尺).
What? Still don't get it? Well, maybe it would help if you read the 6-character Chinese version:
吾鼻涕垂三尺 (오비체수삼척) 
My (吾) nose (鼻) tears (涕) are hanging down (垂) three (三) inches (尺).

What? Still don't get it? Well, maybe this will help: "Nose tears" means "snot."

If you still don't get it, then I suspect you have never been so busy that you did not even have time to wipe away the snot hanging down from your nose.

By the way, there is a reason I decided against using a picture to illustrate the meaning.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

How many grains of millet could Joseon Dynasty sacks hold?

The writing on the above container translates as follows:
穀 (곡) 用 (용), 五 (오) 작 (勺)
grain (穀) use (用), five (五) jak (勺)
"Grain (穀) use (用)" means the above container was used to measure grain instead of liquids, which were measured in separate but similar containers.  "Jak (勺)" refers to the unit of measure, so the above container could hold five (五) jaks of grain. But how much was a jak (勺)?

According to THIS ARTICLE, a jak (勺) was a container used during the Joseon Dynasty that could hold 1,200 grains of millet (기장). That means the 5-jak container above should hold about 6,000 grains of millet (5 x 1,200). So how many grains of millet could the large straw grain sacks (섬) of the Joseon Dynasty hold? Let's do the math.

The following were the units of volume measure used during the Joseon Dynasty:
  • 勺 (작) = 1,200 grains of millet
  • 合 (홉) = 10 작, so 12,000 grains of millet
  • 升 (승) or 되 = 10 홉, so 120,000 grains of millet
  • 斗 (두) or 말 = 10 되, so 1,200,000 grains of millet
  • 石 (석) or 섬 or large sack = 20 말, so 24,000,000 grains of millet
Therefore, based on the linked article, a large, straw grain sack (1 섬), similar to the one shown below, should have been able to hold about 24 million grains of millet. Apparently, there were also small grain sacks that could hold 15 말, which would be about 18 million grains of millet. However, I have read elsewhere that one 섬 equaled 10 말, which would mean one 섬, or sack, could have held about 12 million grains of millet.

One final question: Why did they choose 1,200 grains of millet to equal one jak (勺)? I would guess that one jak of millet equaled about one cooked serving of it.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

What does 남색된 남편 mean?

In Google, if you type "henpecked husband in Korean," you get "남색된 남편," but the literal meaning of the Korean is "a sodomized husband." Since that might give non-Koreans the impression that Korean wives are really brutal, I would like to suggest a few other ways to say "henpecked husband" in Korean.

Probably the most common phrase for "henpecked husband," at least the one I first learned, is 공처가 (恐妻家), which literally means "fear (恐) wife (妻) husband (家)." Besides meaning "house" or "family,"  家 (가) can also mean "husband."

Another phrase used to refer to a henpecked husband is 엄처시하의 남편, which literally means "a husband under the care of a strict wife." 엄처(嚴妻) means "strict wife," and 시하 (侍下) means "under the care of."

If you prefer to use a more pure-Korean phrase to refer to a henpecked husband, you can say 부인에게 깔려 사는 남편," which literally means "a husband being sat on (or held down) by his wife." 까리다 can mean "to spread," but it can also mean "to be held down" or "to be sat on." I like this phrase because it reminds me of a hen sitting on her chicks in a protective way, but some husbands my see it differently.