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Archive for the 'Humor in Korean' Category

May is Family Month – Save 30%!

The Month of May in Korea is often called Family Month. There’s Children’s Day, Parent’s Day, and Teacher’s Day. Korea takes Mother’s Day to a whole different level! On these days you give your Children, Parents and Teachers gifts to show them how much you appreciate them. Children often benefit the most with candy and money being popular gifts. Teachers get quite a lot of gifts as well as they have many students and parents to receive gifts from. And that’s why the month of May is called Family month in Korea!

Well… did you learn something new about Korea?

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한국어 재밌게 공부합시다!
(Let’s have fun studying Korean!)

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404 Error: Understanding not found (Miscommunication in Korean)


Okay, so a little linguistics never hurt anyone. A transference error is when something gets lost in the translation (think old Jackie Chan movies). This superbly hilarious phenomenon is not exclusive to Korean-English, English-Korean but it still is pretty funny nonetheless.

One of my favorites is the whole “our mom” situation. 우리 어머니 is a way of saying “that mother in this context”, “our mother” or “the mother that we both know”. But when you look at it, even a newbie can be thrown off by the context. “What? Our mother? Dude, that’s MY mother!” Good stuff. Why do you know my mom, man? 🙂 How exactly is she your mom, too? Why don’t we have “our” everything?

This is one of those things that just doesn’t translate over well. It’s priceless when a speaker relatively new to the Korean language (like myself) starts to analyze the etymology of words. Sure it doesn’t mean what I think it means (think “brother from another mother” ) but still kind of fun when I think about it. I mean, why not “my mom”?

I also like the /p/ and /f/ relationship. Sejong thought it would be a good idea to put them together like PB&J. “Yeah, so let’s kill two birds with one stone – put them both into /ㅍ/ to entertain and confuse millions of foreigners in the process.” Thanks a lot revered King Sejong… So when I grab a “pork” what am I really grabbing? A “fork”? What about the “pool house”? Oh, the “full house”!

Song HyeGyo
While we’re at it, how about that whole /l/ and /r/ ambiguity? I know the joke has been beaten into the ground but I still have a friend that says something along the lines of “light now we eat lice”. You should hear her read the book “Rain Rain Go Away” to the kids she teaches. Great stuff.

Not all mistranslations are character based. Many are misuses of certain vocabulary terms. The other day, I pulled out a small notepad out of my pocket to write down a phone number of a new friend. She giggled and said in English “Wow, that’s so analog!” I knew what she meant – a digital PDA is a bit more appropriate for the college crowd here in 2008. But I like my little notepad, it serves its purpose. But she wasn’t exactly wrong, but still it seemed a bit strange.

I also like how the word “약속” is translated into “appointment” instead of “plans”. I know that there is a word for plans but “약속” is much more commonly used. But it still kind of cracks me up inside to hear in English “I cannot meet you tomorrow; I have an appointment” Really? Doctor or dentist :)? Native speakers don’t really use the word “appointment” for anything other than business and medical visits. Why not just say “I can’t meet you tomorrow; I have plans”?

Here’s another word I love: “okay”. Seoulites like this word and we like it too. However, not everyone I know uses it the way it should be used. A common translation of “괜찮아요” is “is it okay?” or “are you okay?”. However, when it is used like “you can do this, okay?” it seems too direct. The other day I heard “He is a friend and you can call him, okay?” 🙂 I couldn’t help but think “I don’t know, you tell me, is it okay to call him? Will I be okay?” I’m never sure what to say back to that.

I really like this phrase that my friend says a lot “Oh~ I am so stress” It makes me smile every time.


I must be fair, we have some strange things about English. We say “I am going to take a test” but really, we don’t steal the test and take it with us – we just write on the paper and turn it in. Koreans say “I look at a test” which actually makes a bit more sense. Also, in English we say “I want to spend time with you” but really, we don’t literally own time in the same way we own money. I can’t really “spend” time on anything.
Also, something in English that is literally untranslatable  deals with the bathroom. We say “I need to take a <fill in the action of choice>” but really, we don’t take it. We leave it there – Oh man…This blog just went from bad to worse.

I kid around because I like how we can strive for one thing and end up messing up terribly. I’m pretty sure one of my friends in Korea is writing in her blog on just how much I make her laugh – and not the kind that you want to take home and marry – the kind you want to put on stage with a tutu on while balancing on a ball – that type of laugh.

Matthew speaking Korean badly

All I can say is that I could really go for some wapples light now, okay?


The Importance of 띄어쓰기(spacing)

I’m sure you are all aware that 띄어쓰기(spacing) in Korean is just as important as in any other language (with the exception of Japanese and Chinese where spacing isn’t necessary). I’d like to introduce some of the most commonly mentioned examples of the confusion that spacing errors can bring about. ^_^

The first one.

Let’s say you want to write,
“My father is going into the room.”


– father = 아버지
– room = 방
– to go into = 들어가시다 (honorific)

So this becomes

아버지가 방에 들어가십니다.


if you change the spacing a little bit and write,

it becomes

“아버지 가방에 들어가십니다.”

(My father is going into the bag.)



And here’s another interesting example 🙂

Let’s say you want to say “I bought a tree tonight.”

– tree = 나무

– buy (and come) = 사오다

– tonight = 오늘밤

So this is correctly written in Korean as ”

오늘밤 나무 사왔어.

But if you make a mistake in spacing and write

오늘밤 나 무 사왔어.

It means “I bought some radish tonight.


And if you write

오늘 밤나무 사왔어.

It means “I bought a chestnut tree.

These are only some very common examples, and I believe you will experience a lot of spacing-related funny mistakes as you keep studying Korean. 🙂 But no matter how many mistakes you make and no matter how many times you get corrected on spacing, don’t despair 🙂 띄어쓰기 is often a headache for Korean people too 🙂 And if you want to get some instant help from an automated robot on the internet, you can go to the Naver LAB page here. https://s.lab.naver.com/autospacing/

Thanks for reading!

Shinjuku in Seoul?

Here’s another very interesting 간판(store signboard) I found in Seoul, Korea. If you have any interest at all about Japan, you’ve probably heard of Shinjuku, a major commercial center of Tokyo, Japan. And since Japan and Korea are physically so close, you can say that EVERYBODY in Korea has heard of the name “Shinjuku” or 신주쿠, as it’s written in 한글(hangul).

But this store cleverly used that fact in making a not-easy-to-forget store name.

Before you look at the store name, please look at the pictures below.


This is 쭈꾸미(jjukkumi), a kind of octopus, but a smaller kind. 쭈꾸미 is cooked many ways, but mostly with host pepper sauce (고추장) and it’s made to be really spicy hot and chewy at the same time. Great taste, and allegedly very good for health.


And on a different note, “spicy hotness” (매운맛) is often expressed in this Chinese character.

And in Korean, this Chinese character is read “신”, thus the name of the most famous Korean ramyeon, “신(辛)라면“.

Now look at this store name 🙂 And guess what it sounds like.

Yes, it’s 신(辛) + 쭈꾸, and it reads very similar to 신주쿠(shinjuku).

And if you look at the meaning behind this name, it means “spicy hot 쭈꾸미”.

So you can guess that this place serves spicy hot 쭈구미 but probably doesn’t have anything to do with Shinjuku in Japan. But while I was standing there thinking about the meaning and smiling, I realized that I had already memorized the name. 🙂 That’s half the success for them in attracting customers, I guess.


Hi everyone. Back with another Korean 간판(signboard). This is not “funny” but very interesting.

I live just across the street from my university so it’s very convenient whenever I receive a last-minute phone call to cancel an appointment and also when I want to meet someone around school.

One day, a friend of mine from Australia called me and asked,

“Do you want to have lunch together?”

So I said,

“Yes, where shall we meet? Where do you want to go?”

So she said that she wanted to go to “김네” but I had never heard of such place near my university so I asked her back, “김네? (wondering what it could mean) Where is it? I don’t think I know the place.”

She sounded surprised that I didn’t know this place because it was literally just around the corner from my house. And the place she took me to was this place in the photo.


Do you get it now?

My friend had been in Korea only for a few weeks and she wasn’t really aware of the fact that a lot of Korean words can be written in Chinese characters as well, although we pronounce them differently from how the Chinese or Japanese do. (Learn more about this in this newsfeed)

So basically MOST Korean people, if they look at this name “김家네” and read it as “김가네” because家(가, meaning ‘house’ or ‘family) is one of the basic Hanja(Chinese character) words that they learn in elementary school, and get to see everywhere. I’m not trying to say that my friend was ignorant of what she was supposed to know, and actually her Korean got really better during her stay. When I saw this shop again on my way home the other day, I wanted to share with you all of you readers how 한자(Hanja) is very commonly found in Korea.

And this is a very clever name too, because 김(as in 김밥=Kimbap) means laver (and I’m sure you know what 김밥 is. If you don’t, please see the photos below.)



“네”, when it’s attached to “a family name + 가(家: house/family)”, means (again) “house” or “family”. And “김” happens to be the word for both “laver” but also the most common family name. So if it weren’t a shop name, 김가네(金家네) means [Kim’s family] or [the Kims].

The “ㅇ가네” expression is not so commonly used these days, but it’s still a clever restaurant name to give people a very familiar and intimate feeling, while being very obvious that they sell as well.
Alright. Thank you for reading, and see you next week!