Korean Proverb 3

1) Original Performance: “호랑이도 제 말 하면 온다”

Romanization/Transliteration: Ho-rang-ee do jeh mal ha-myun on-dah

Full Translation (Literal / Dynamic): “speak about a tiger and he will appear” / “speak of the devil and he will appear”

2) The informant is my grandfather, a Korean who immigrated to the US in the 1970s. My grandfather said that this proverb is such a universally known piece of folklore, that he can’t recall who exactly he learned it from. This is similar to how I have heard “speak of the devil” a million times, but can’t pinpoint the first time I heard it. He shared this piece with me because according to him, there’s no reason to be talking about people behind their back. He told me this proverb in order to encourage me to ponder things like current events and creative ideas. 

3) This was performed along with a set of four Korean proverbs that I asked my grandfather to tell me while eating dinner at his house a month or so ago. I specifically asked him to tell me his four favorite or most inspirational proverbs that he could think of. 

4) In comparing this proverb to its English equivalent, I noticed that both a tiger and devil are aggressive entities that are characterized as threats or forms of danger in common perception. They highlight that there is an inclination to speak of what “shouldn’t” be spoken of, but also a consequence of this. When contextualizing this proverb within Korea itself, I would say the probability for an “appearance” of the tiger is something that should be taken even more heed than in a society with a more individualistic backdrop. Korea is a society based on Confucianism and thus relationships, meaning people are in a closer locality, whether literally or figuratively, and there is more risk for the speaker to be exposed.