Tag Archives: metaphor

There’s Always Two Sides

This saying is one that my informant said she uses on a regular basis:

“No matter how thin the pancake, there are always two sides”.

My informant said that she learned this proverb or saying from a friend that was born and raised in Japan. Her name was Kozuko, and my informant met her in the 1980’s when her husband was stationed in Japan for the army. My informant believes that it was a proverb that was common within Kozuko’s family. Kozuko had translated the phrase from Japanese and told them how to say it in English. My informant thinks that it originally may have been a different word than ‘pancake’, because those are not a Japanese food. My informant uses this saying, she says, to express that there are always two sides to a story. She told her kids this when they would make decisions without considering the consequences or the people that they could hurt in the process. She says that she always thinks of her friend Kozuko when she uses the phrase, and is happy that she was able to bring it back to California.

I, for the most part, agree with my informant’s analysis of this piece of folklore. I believe it was likely developed as a more clever way to say that there are two sides to every story. I believe that this metaphorical way of saying that is a good way to get the message across. I had never heard this saying before, and after researching it more, could not find many sources and sites of it. This leads me to believe it is a rather rare saying, and potentially rarely translated from Japanese, or wherever its true origins lie.

Folk Metaphor-Korean

“?? ??~” or “????”

“gui-shin ga-chi~” “gui-shin-ee-yah”

“ghost like~” “ghost is”

“~like a ghost” “Is a ghost”

Gisuk has always heard this being said in Korea. It is a very common phrase used when someone is uncannily good at something. I was teaching her some dance technique, and noticed out of the corner of my eye that she was not turning her foot out properly. “Turn out!” I said, and she said “?? ?? ?? ??…!” Which is literally, “You know, like a ghost!” Basically, what she meant was “You can tell so well, like a ghost!”

I have always heard this myself, but when she said this I noticed for the first time how odd it is that we would equate being very good or very skilled at something to being a ghost. That is when I decided this was a valuable piece of Korean folklore.

When I asked her what she thought this meant, she said simply that she thinks we compare a very skilled person to a ghost because it can be mysterious when someone is unusually good at something.

However, most cultures would not associate anything good to a ghost. Yet in Korean, when we say “good like a ghost,” it is generally a compliment and does not even necessarily connote mysteriousness or eeriness of a person’s talent. People might say enthusiastically of a good singer “at singing, she’s a ghost!” of a math prodigy, they might say “he’s a math ghost”—without the slightest hint of negativity or uneasiness. I do not think the term ghost here is at all associated with the scary unknown. I would compare this to the American use of the word ‘wizard’ in the phrases “math wizard” or “computer wizard.” In this context, it ‘wizard’ simply means someone very skilled, with a trace of apprehension of sorcery. It is also an uncommon idea that ghosts are particularly skilled or talented. In western portrayals, anyway, ghosts are rather stiff and unable to think or do much.

I think this may be a vestigial of Korea’s historical shamanistic religions, and traditions of ancestor worship. Actually, many of our most important holidays still retain a great deal of ancestor worship. Because most of the ghosts that historical Koreans would have dealt with in their lives were those of ancestors, it is now no longer so surprising to me that Koreans still have an unusually positive view of ghosts. Historically, we worshiped them, and they were our guardians. No wonder, then, when we see someone who excels, we say “Why you’re like a ghost!” Putting it into historical context, we are basically saying “you are like an ancestor-god!”