Tag Archives: proverb

Korean Proverb 1

1) Original Performance: “개천에서 용 난다”

Romanization/Transliteration: Gae-cheon eh-suh yong nan-da

Full Translation (Literal / Dynamic): “A dragon is born from a stream” / “Great people come from humble beginnings”

2) The informant is my grandfather, a Korean who immigrated to the US in the 1970s. My grandfather learned this piece from my great grandmother, who told this proverb to him when he was a child in the Korean countryside with few resources (due to the destruction of the Korean War). He told me he likes this piece because he feels as if he has overcome his circumstances to emerge as a “dragon,” so to speak. 

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 thinking about this performance, I was surprised by the text’s raw references to nature and mythical characters. Upon further thinking, I realized that Korea puts great emphasis on the Lunar Calendar, and that the symbols of luck, strength, and fortune that are associated with the dragon match with the idea of an individual’s journey towards prosperity. 

Korean Proverb 4

Entry 4: 

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. 

Proverb – “It is what it is”


“It is what it is” 


KY is an 18-year-old American Student at USC. She grew up in North Carolina. I asked her if she knew any proverbs or commonly said phrases and she told me this one. Her interpretation of it is, “People would say it whenever something happened that might be stressful or might not be what the plan was supposed to be, and you just shake it off and go with it.”


This proverb is one I’ve heard often and is used in similar contexts to what my informant described. When something happened that was a bummer but there wasn’t anything that could be done about it, we would say “it is what it is” to signify that what happened had happened and nothing could be changed about it so it was best not to worry. Proverbs like this are a good example of vernacular authority, where people can look back on how insignificant some small issues in life were now that they are older. This proverb specifically shows us that while the past is important in this culture, it is much more important to look on to the future and control things that can be controlled since they haven’t happened yet instead of dwelling on things that can’t be changed. 

Biblical Proverb with Colloquial Use


“Spare the rod and spoil the child.”


JN is a 50-year-old freelance writer in Minnesota, where she grew up as well. When asked about any proverbs she knows, she mentioned this proverb, that her parents used to say to her when she was growing up. She described it as “children in the 1970s and 1980s were sort of in the way.” Meaning that they were seen as a burden sometimes and weren’t viewed in a positive light. She mentioned that this proverb is based on a biblical proverb that children were supposed to receive corporal punishment (like spanking) so they don’t get spoiled.


Proverbs like this can give a good insight into what values were important in different times. This is a proverb that isn’t as common nowadays because corporal punishment is usually looked down upon as a form of discipline, but it used to be very normal and not seen as an issue/abusive (as we might consider it now). It gives insight into generational differences in values and how children are treated as a result of those values. The verse it comes from reads “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” (The Holy Bible, Prov. 13.24). The use of this proverb also showcases the importance of religion in this context, where people derive their treatment of children (and others) from biblical teachings (even if they misinterpret or loosely interpret the teachings themselves). People can use proverbs like this to justify behavior, even if we would consider that behavior wrong, using a common saying makes it seem like it is advisable. 

Even Monkeys Can Fall from Trees

Original Phrase: 원숭이도 나무에서 떨어진다
Translation: Even monkeys can fall from trees.

K is a Korean American whose parents are of Korean ancestry. He is currently in college. He says that he had heard this proverb from his parents. This piece is memorable to him because he tries to take this message to heart when it comes to doing anything.

Context: This proverb came up in a discussion about proverbs. There was a back and forth between interesting proverbs and what they meant before this piece came up.

This proverb is very similar to other childhood proverbs in that it uses animals to teach children an important lesson in life. This lesson is that even the best, most specialized people can still fail. So do not be over confident. This is because monkeys are typically seen as adapted to living in trees. They spend all their time swinging from tree to tree, often looking like there isn’t a care in the world. In reality, however, these monkeys will still miss and fall from the tree. This message is pretty important to children as it teaches them to be humble about their skills. If you become arrogant and comfortable with your skills without being sufficiently cautious, you can still fail.