Idioms are peculiar and unique expressions since their meaning cannot be derived from the conjoined definitions of their elements. They give us a glimpse into our ancestors’ wisdom and helps us reflect on our history and culture. Due to the tendency of people aspiring to follow the same global norms, you can find idioms which have the same meaning but are expressed differently in various countries. In this article, we will have a closer look at five different Korean idiomatic expressions.

1. 호랑이도 제 말하면 온다

Literal translation : The tiger appears if you mention it.

    This idiom is used when a conversation topic unexpectedly appears in real life. It has the same meaning as the Norwegian proverb, “When you talk about the sun, it shines.”. Norwegians emphasise the sun, and Koreans closely link the tiger with their culture— similar idiomatic language but with a distinct subject focus.

    2. 남의 떡이 더 커보인다

    Literal translation: ​​Other’s rice cake looks even bigger.

    This idiom describes someone who believes that what they have will always seem less than what other person has. The saying “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” also conveys the same message. Once more, we use a similar language, but in Korean, the item is a rice cake, which is a mainstay of Korean cuisine.

    3. 금강산도 식후경

    Literal translation: You can enjoy Mount Geumgang after having a meal.

    This idiom means that no matter how wonderful or magnificent something is, if you are not satisfied, you cannot fully appreciate it. Here, this idiom shows that your attention will be diverted from something far more attractive— like the stunning mountain view— and instead, be drawn to how hungry you are– a primary desire of a human.

    4. 고래 싸움에 새우 등 터진다

    Literal translation: When whales fight, the shrimp’s back is broken.

    In other words, when two giants battle, the innocent one suffers the consequences. In the past, Koreans frequently used this term to indicate how their nation has been victimised by the conflict of more major neighbouring countries.

    5. 원숭이도 나무에서 떨어진다

    Literal translation: Even monkeys can fall from the trees.

    This idiom means that everyone, even the best performers, occasionally makes errors and mistakes. Everyone can connect to this term regardless of national or cultural background. It is acceptable for one to fall; and they just need to get back up.

    We can learn more about Korea’s history, culture, and characteristics by studying these idiomatic phrases in greater detail. Learning Korean idioms is entertaining and informational, and it will improve your language abilities.

    Edited by Suwan (Hailey) Choi

    Doheon (David) Kim

    Student of NLCS Jeju


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