Tag Archives: Korean proverb

“The bird will listen to what you say during daytime and the mouse will listen to what you say during nighttime” (낮말은 새가 듣고 밤말은 쥐가 듣는다)

Main Piece : 

“낮말은 새가 듣고 밤말은 쥐가 듣는다”

Original Script : 낮말은 새가 듣고 밤말은 쥐가 듣는다

Phonetic (Roman) Script : Natmalun saegadutgo bammalun jwigadutneunda

Transliteration : The bird will listen to what you say during daytime and the mouse will listen to what you say during nighttime

Full Translation : There will always be someone who listens to what you are saying, so be careful everytime when you speak

Context :

My informant is an adult male who was born in the Gangwon Area of Korea, which is located on the East side of the peninsula. He received Korean education throughout his life and he now works in Korea. Here, he is describing a commonly used proverb that is used in the Korean society. He is identified as S in the dialogue. This piece was collected over a phone call in Korean and was translated into English. 

S : This is a pretty common one too. I don’t think this only pertains to the Korean society but it is true that you need to be aware of what you say no matter what. If you are gossiping about someone in public, actually, even in private, you never know who will be listening to you and spread the word. It’s kinda sad because it seems like it’s trying to tell us that there is no one to trust in this world but also tells us that you, yourself, need to shut your mouth and don’t make unnecessary comments about others and mind your own business. 

Analysis :

This proverb was very interesting because of the animals who will be listening to the person talking. We can also learn that a lot of Korean proverbs have animals taking action. By introducing the bird and the mouse as listeners, it makes the audience imagine birds flying around and mice running around to spread the message of the gossip. Upon my research, I also found a very interesting article that was published by JoongAng Ilbo in 2010, that shows a possible scientific explanation to this. This article talked about the movement of the sound; sound moves from cold places to hotter places due to refraction and during the day, the sound moves from the ground to the sky due to the sunlight and its heat. On the other hand, during the night, the air cools down as the sun sets and the ground is comparatively warmer because of the lingering heat inside the soil. Thus, during the day, the birds are more likely to hear what someone is saying because they are in the sky, and during the night, the mice are more likely to listen to what someone is saying. Before this project, I just thought this proverb was only meant to give a lesson to be aware of what you say to others. However, learning a scientific background made this quote more interesting and I wonder if any more proverbs have a scientific explanation to it too. 

“Not knowing is the medicine” (모르는게 약이다)

Main Piece : 

“모르는게 약이다.”

Original Script : 모르는게 약이다

Phonetic (Roman) Script : Morununge yak-ee-da

Transliteration : Not knowing is the medicine.

Full Translation : There is truth that is better off not knowing. 

Context :

My informant is an adult male who was born in the Gangwon Area of Korea, which is located on the East side of the peninsula. He received Korean education throughout his life and he now works in Korea. Here, he is describing a commonly used proverb that is used in the Korean society. He is identified as S in the dialogue. This piece was collected over a phone call in Korean and was translated into English. 

S : So this proverb, which sounds more like a common saying is used when, for example, some person is trying to dig up information that will be harmful to them. For example, if your friend is trying to dig into a gossip full of drama, you would tell her, “there is truth that is better off not knowing”. This saying translates into how knowing unneeded facts can be harmful to you and thus makes not-knowing a medicine. 

Analysis :

I personally liked this example because this is a saying that I, myself use it a lot too. This is one of the best known proverbs in the Korean society, and it applies to a lot of situations. This proverb reminds me of my grandmother telling me this proverb whenever I became curious about what the adults were talking about whenever we had big family gatherings. Whether it is a school gossip or politics, there are some things that are better off not knowing. I like how the description of ‘knowing unneeded facts’ is considered harmful and not knowing is not even neutral but a medicine for one. 

“A pearl necklace on a pig’s neck” (돼지 목에 진주목걸이)

Main Piece : 

“돼지 목에 진주목걸이”

Original Script : 돼지 목에 진주목걸이

Phonetic (Roman) Script : Dwaeji mok-eh jinju mokgul-ee

Transliteration : A pearl necklace on a pig’s neck

Full Translation : One must live within one’s means

Context :

My informant is an adult male who was born in the Gangwon Area of Korea, which is located on the East side of the peninsula. He received Korean education throughout his life and he now works in Korea. Here, he is describing a commonly used proverb that is used in the Korean society. He is identified as S, and I will be identified as E in the dialogue. This piece was collected over a phone call in Korean and was translated into English. 

S : So what do you think what it means by a pearl necklace on a pig’s neck?

E : Maybe that it doesn’t go along well? It doesn’t fit?

S : Basically, yeah. A pig will never wear a pearl necklace and even if it did, it won’t know the value of it, whether it is high or low. This proverb means that one must live within one’s means and know their own value. If one doesn’t live within their ‘range’ but only seeks for valuable objects, they will only look like a pig with a pearl necklace. 

E : Haha, I think that’s a very straightforward explanation of it – a pig with a pearl necklace.

S : It’s supposed to give that direct meaning, I guess.

Analysis :

This proverb shows the difference of a human and an animal and that they have different values for objects. While a human might admire expensive cars and jewelry, an animal would not value those objects but would rather value a good meal. This hints at a humor by comparing two unlikely matters; an expensive pearl necklace and a pig, which is an animal that is usually perceived to be dirty. 

Korean Proverb

There is a proverb in Korea that is “티끌모아태산”

Original script: 티끌모아태산

Phonetic (Roman) script: Tikkeul moa tae-san

Transliteration: Dust collection becomes a mountain

Full translation: A penny saved is a penny earned (Though not a direct translation, it has a similar meaning of this English proverbial phrase)

Background:

My informant is a 20-year-old friend from Korea, identified as Y. She says it means that if you don’t give up and continue to work towards your goal, you will become successful and achieve your goals. She remembers this proverb because she thinks it’s applicable to her own life since she tends to give up very easily.

Thoughts:

I agree with Y about this proverb. I also tend to give up very easily when something doesn’t go the way that I planned. This proverb reminds us that we shouldn’t give up because every small effort will eventually accumulate to something bigger and through hardwork and effort, we will succeed. This applies to my own life because when I was a high school senior and applying to colleges, I didn’t get into a lot of schools that I wanted to. I had gone to a school that I didn’t really want to go to but found that it wasn’t for me. But I didn’t want to go through the college application process again and didn’t want to transfer. It was my mom who reminded me that I should at least put it the effort because it doesn’t hurt to try. The application process was a hard one, with many nights spent crying due to an existential crisis. I felt like giving up, but I pushed myself to write the best application I could and successfully transferred to USC.

Korean Proverb

There is a proverb in Korea that is “서당개 삼년이면 풍월을 읊는다”

Original script: 서당개 삼년이면 풍월을 읊는다

Phonetic (Roman) script: Seodang-gae samnyeon-imyeon pungwol-eul eulpneunda.

Transliteration: A dog at school will know words three years later

Full translation: Practice makes perfect

Background: My informant is a 23-year-old friend from Korea, identified as H. She interprets it to anyone with the guidance of an expert or in an environment of study, they will be able to learn something and become successful. She remembers this proverb because it relates to her own life. H says after she became a college student, she has realized the importance of self-directed teaching to fully understand concepts and has often felt jealousy of those who are able to understand concepts faster. Her experience in college has reminded her of this proverb.

Thoughts:

I agree with this proverb because I think it applies to any life situation. If you keep on practicing, you will succeed. Whether it is solving a math equation, learning an instrument or driving a car, you will succeed if you keep practicing. You will eventually be able to solve that very complicated math problem, play a difficult classic piece and get your driver’s license. It applies to every part of life and it reminds me that you shouldn’t give up.

Korean Proverb

There is a proverb in Korea that is “가는 말이 고와야 오는 말이 곱다”

Original script: 가는 말이 고와야 오는 말이 곱다

Phonetic (Roman) script: Ganeun mal-i gowaya oneun mal-i gobda

Transliteration: If the word you say is good, then the word coming back at you is good

Full translation: What goes around comes around.

Background: My informant is a 23-year-old friend from Korea, identified as J. She remembers this proverb because she thinks it’s applicable to everyday life. J says that she thinks this proverb has the idea that if she were to give someone a compliment, they will compliment her back. And because of this proverb, she tries her best to say nice things to people instead of gossiping behind their backs.

Thoughts:

I agree with J on this because it is a common belief that you should treat others the way you want to be treated. I think everyone, regardless of cultural background, should believe in this idea of treating others well because what goes around will come around. Just as some traditions believe in Karma, if you don’t treat others well, you will be punished and have to pay for your actions.

Korean Proverb

Main Piece:

There is a proverb in Korea that is “소잃고 외양간 고친다”

Original script: 소잃고 외양간 고친다

Phonetic (Roman) script: So illko waeyanggan gochinda.

Transliteration: After losing cow, fix cowshed

Full translation: No point mending the cowshed after the losing the cow

Background:

My informant is a 20-year-old friend from Korea, identified as Y. She says it means that you don’t look ahead to your problems and wait until the very last minute or sometimes after the problem has occurred to fix your problems. In other words, in times of crisis you don’t have plan and you only start preparing after the crisis has begun.

Y saw this proverb in a collection of Korean proverbs and it stood out to her because she thought it was very applicable to everyday life. She relates it to her own personal life by saying that when she studies or does something, she likes looking ahead to her problems to prevent that problem coming back to bite her later. She said that instead of regretting that she should have studied more on the day of an exam, she wants to compliment herself for working hard and that’s why she thinks of this proverb.

Thoughts:

I think this proverb is very relatable to myself as well. I have a habit of regretting my actions after I do them and I often go back and think about what I should have done. I constantly think about “what-ifs” and my dad always tells me to not dwell on the past and think about the future. As this proverb says, there’s no point fixing the cowshed after the cow has fled. In real life, there’s no point thinking about what should have been after what already happened.

Korean Proverb

There is a proverb in Korea that is “바늘도둑이 소도둑 된다”

Original script: 바늘도둑이 소도둑 된다

Phonetic (Roman) script: Baneul-dodook ee so-dodook dwaenda.

Transliteration: Needle thief cow thief becomes.

Full translation: Someone who steals small things will eventually steal bigger things.

Background:

My informant is a 20-year-old friend from Korea, identified as Y. She says it means that someone who starts stealing small things will eventually steal bigger things. So, if someone starts off shoplifting a pen, they will grow up to commit bigger crimes like robbing a bank. Y says she heard about this proverb a few years ago and remembers it because when she looks at crimes committed in Korea, she hopes that bigger crimes like murder can be prevented and fixed, by basing it on smaller crimes committed.

Thoughts:

I agree with this proverb and it reminded me of a criminal psychology class I took at USC a few years ago. In the class, we learned that someone who hurts animals will have a higher chance of committing murder and becoming a psychopath. I agree with Y’s thoughts about this piece because it is small crimes that we have to punish to prevent the criminal from committing bigger crimes in the future.

A ghost who died while eating, still looks good

Context:

The subject is a college freshman, born in South Korea before moving to the United States when they were 12 years old. I wanted to get to know more about any folklore they might have experienced growing up, so I conducted an interview with them to find out. They use this proverb very frequently while in Korea.

 

Piece:

Subject: “Ghost who died while eating, looks good. That’s a rough translation.

Interviewer: A ghost?

Subject: “A ghost who died eating, looks good, like has good skin color, looks healthy” actually say looks healthy. So when someone’s debating, ‘should I eat this or not? Like I’ve had so much food today, but I really want this last donut.” Other person, like trying to persuade them into eating, “dude, like even a ghost who died eating looks healthy, you know? Like even a ghost, who’s a dead entity, but even that ghost, looks better, arguably, than other ghosts, and he died while eating, so you should eat!”

Interviewer: Okay, are they — what is the point, why do they look better when they’re eating?

Subject: Because food, food is good for you.

Interviewer: Okay that makes sense. Do you use that often?

Subject: Mostly just old people do.

Interviewer: Old people love proverbs.

Subject: It’s their meme.

 

Analysis:

Another Korean proverb here, this one again having to do with food. As I said earlier, Asian countries pride themselves on creating a communal dining experience. Korean barbeque restaurants for example make it a point to have the eaters cook their meats together, solidifying it as a group-effort.

 

Why do you have to taste soy paste and shit to tell them apart?

Context:

The subject is a college freshman, born in South Korea before moving to the United States when they were 12 years old. I wanted to get to know more about any folklore they might have experienced growing up, so I conducted an interview with them to find out.

 

Piece:

Subject: It’s said in a way, like, “You don’t have to taste the soy paste and shit to tell them apart.” I think I’ve told you this already.

Interviewer: Yup I remember this.

Subject: Like soy paste kinda looks like shit, but most people are aware enough, like, we know from afar. But people who are so stupid, or like, people who go the extra mile to be safe. We say, “why do you have to taste shit and soy paste to tell them apart, why can’t you just — why aren’t you smarter?”

Interviewer: So that’s basically what you say to someone when they’re being dumb?

Subject: Yeah, if you’re being stupid, you’re tasting soy paste and shit to tell them apart.

 

Analysis:

I tried looking up the phrase, however I was unable to find any substantive background to the saying. The subject went on to tell me additional proverbs from Korea that also have to do with food, leading me to believe that the culture may have a great appreciation for it.

While the United States pride themselves on fast meals, a staple of Asian culture is the dining experience. It’s communal and meant to be shared.