1) Original Performance: “가는 말이 고와야 오는 말이 곱다”
Romanization/Transliteration: “ga-neun mal-ee go-wah-yah oh-neun mal-ee gob-da”
Full Translation (Literal / Dynamic): “going words must be beautiful in order for coming words to be beautiful” / “you must speak nicely to hear nice words” / “treat others the way you wish to be treated”
2) The informant is Kang Soo Lee, my grandfather, and a Korean who immigrated to the US in the 1970s. My grandfather said that this proverb is a folklore he learned from his mother, my great-grandmother. He says it was well known as a principle in Korea, but had no other distinction like “The Golden Rule.” He personally likes the phrase, but finds it intriguing that it is given a new level of relevance in America.
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 hearing this proverb, I’m made to think about contrasts in Korean and American culture. The fact that the Korean proverb isn’t given a new moral status as with the Golden Rule – though it’s still held as a moral principle – likely serves some connection to the fact that this expectation of a necessary equality of treatment between both parties isn’t taken as a given. For example, there are both family and corporate, professional situations where one party (the lower in the relationship’s hierarchy) clearly talks to their superior in the same manner the superior talks to them. This is because things like age, occupation, and family background are high contributors to the innate status an individual has in society. This is tied to old Confucian concepts of filial piety.