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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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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!

Is your belly button bigger than your belly?

Hi everyone, did you all have a good start of the new year?

From reading the signboard, can you guess what this pub is emphasizing? :)


If you can, you really understand a lot of Korean! But even if you don’t, don’t worry because it’s an old saying, and it’s only a part of the original saying. The saying goes “배보다 배꼽이 크다.” which means “Your belly button(navel) is bigger than your stomach.”

Korean people say this when someone forgets what’s really important and ends up making or doing more of something that is extra. For example, when you see someone taking a taxi and paying 100 dollars in order to go shopping to a cheaper mall and save 50 dollars, or when you see someone cooking just for three people and buying the amount of ingredients for 30 people :-), you can say “배보다 배꼽이 크네!” or “배보다 배꼽이 크군요.”

And here, it only says 배보다 배꼽, but not Korean people would be confused about what it means because it’s a very common saying that one gets to hear a lot at home or on TV :-) (no one would think “배보다 배꼽이 작다” or “배보다 배꼽이 뭐?̶ ;)

So this pub is saying that they provide with more than ten different free side dishes for ordering beer or soju :-) as it’s written on another signboard right next to it. In Korea drinking often means a lot of soju or beer and even more 안주(side dishes), and how much 안주 you’ll get served (along with how good they taste) is an important factor in deciding what pub you will frequently go with your friends! :-)

존 = zone?

Walking around in Korea, among many other interesting shop names, you will see a lot of names that have the letter “존” in it. But even if you look up the dictionary, you wouldn’t find just the right meaning for what you see in some of the store or product names, other than the meaning of ‘respect’ or ‘existence’, and of course they’re not what 존 means in most sign boards.

Look at the name of this PC Bang.


It says 존앤존 PC방 and in English it’s written Zone&Zone. But what does Zone&Zone mean and where does it come from?

And look at the beverage below.


What does 모메존 mean? What does 모메 mean and what’s the meaning of 존 here? Of course you can’t find any of those words in the dictionary because this name is also a word play.

Do you know the word “좋은” or “좋다”?

“좋다” is the basic form of the adjective that means “to be good or nice”, right? And 좋은 is the form you use when you say it in front of a noun, like 좋은 학생, 좋은 사람, 좋은 날씨.

And if you pronounce 좋은 three times fast, it becomes ‘존’ :-)  and now you know where it comes from.

So, 존앤존 could mean just ‘zones’  (but possibly not) but most people would think of a good PC ‘zone’. And 모메존 is a simplified spelling of how 몸에 좋은 sounds. 몸에 좋은 means ‘good for your body’ therefore “모메존 알로에” means Aloe that is good for your body. :)  Some people are opposed to using too much simplified spelling in brand names like this because these word plays might ‘destory’ the rules of the Korean language, but even if they were to name everything correctly like 좋은 앤 좋은 PC방 or 몸에 좋은 알로에, even more words are being simplified on the Internet already! :-)

튀는 아이, t=i

This is a photo I took in 광주(Gwangju), the city I was born in, when I visited my parents the other day. I always love the humor found in these kinds of signboards and store names because they make it so much easier to remember the names and also show the effort that the store owner(or someone else) must have made to come up with such phrases or names.

What you see is [ t = i ], which means nothing in English. But if you pronounce it, it’s a different story :D The mathematical sign ” =(equal) ” is read as “는” in Korean, as in “저 ㅇㅇㅇ입니다”


So if you read it in Korean, it’s “티(t)는 아이(i)”.

And as you can see in the bottom part of the signboard, the name is supposed to mean ‘튀는 아이’.

Of course there’s a clear distinction between 티 and 튀 since 티 is [ TI ] and 튀 is [ TWI ], but if you say them both just quickly, they sound similar.

And the expression 튀는 아이 is very interesting too, because 튀는 (or 튀다 in its basic form) is not in the dictionary yet. If you look it up in your dictionary, it will say “to jump” “to run away” or “to spatter” but 튀다 in daily conversations often means “to stand out” or “to be unique or peculiar in style”.

튀는 옷 = very unique clothes (it’s NOT some clothes running away)
튀는 패션 = peculiar fashion (it’s NOT some fashion jumping up and down)
튀는 얼굴 = a very unique face, a face that you won’t easily forget (it’s NOT a face that spatters)

So 튀는 아이 means “a kid that stands out or is noticeable” (because of his/her clothes - this is what the store name is supposed to mean), so you can guess that this store is a clothes shop for kids. :D

I really loved this name, and wanted to share it with all of you.

Thank you for reading! :D

아웃뷁 하우스

The OUTBACK STEAKHOUSE’s franchise restaurants are also found in Korea, and they are spelled “아웃백 스테이크 하우스” and it’s very popular here, especially among young women (or maybe ONLY among young women and some young men who want to impress them.) :-) Having a meal at 아웃백 스테이크 하우스 is quite expensive compared to cheaper and more regular meals, because an average lunch or dinner in Korea would cost about 3,000 won ~ 6,000 won (US$4~7) but a meal at 아웃백 스테이크 하우스 starts from 20,000 won (US$ 23). But the food is good, and the service is excellent, so the high price doesn’t stop people from going there.


And I saw this funny signboard of a steakhouse near my campus, called 아웃뷁 하우스.


뷁 is not just a funny and wrong spelling of the word 백 in 아웃백, but it actually means something, and you will never find it in any Korean English dictionary you have. But it’s usued quite often in Korean chat rooms online.

The word 뷁 comes from this singer named 문희준, who used to be a member of the male singing/dancing group H.O.T. until the team was broken, and he became a solo singer afterwards amist worries (because he’s not the most talented guy in singing, obviously).


In his last album he had a song that had the English word “BREAK” in the lyrics. And no one knew what he said before reading the lyrics and people thought it somehow sounded like “뷁”, a word that doesn’t exist, and ever since then, the word 뷁 has been used to mean that you’re upset or not happy with something or you even think something is disgusting. :D

So it’s used like this:

A: 야, 사장님이 크리스마스에도 출근하래. (Hey the president wants us to work on the Christmas day too!)

B: 뷁!!

So any Korean who knows this word would have a good laugh out of it, so I thought it would be good for you to know, too!


By the way, I haven’t been to this 아웃뷁 하우스 yet, but my friends say the food is very good there. :D


Look at the name written on this signboard of a (probably) fried chicken restaurant (오마이치킨= Oh my chicken) . What do you think this is a parody of? It’s obviously not a literal translation of “오, 나의 치킨” or “오, 나의 닭”, right?

Of course, you would often hear Korean people saying “오 마이 갓!(Oh my God!)” in a joking manner even if they don’t really speak English, but looking at this 오마이치킨, I am sure 90% of all Korean people who use the Internet (which is … almost everybody) would think of the name “오마이뉴스”.

오마이뉴스(https://ohmynews.com) is an online newspaper that has the motto “Every Citizen is a Reporter(모든 시민은 기자다)” and it was founded 7 years ago in 2000. It’s an interesting form of media because about 20% of all the articles from Ohmynews.com are written by 55 freelance reporters who are mostly ordinary citizens, yet this online newspaper has such a big influence that it even had some obvious influence in the result of the presidential elections in December 2002.

Not everybody likes this newspaper because it’s very progressive in its views, but it is gaining wider and wider readership because people feel that other major daily newspapers are influenced too much by pressure from outside and it often publishes articles that you cannot find in other newspapers or articles that talk about the same topics but in a different point of view.


So, it would be no surprise if EVERYONE told me that they thought of 오마이뉴스 when they saw 오마이치킨 - it’s THAT influential, or at least its name is widely known. Ohmynews also has an English site for global news and its content is 100% contributed by citizen reporters from all over the world. Take a look at ” https://english.ohmynews.com/ ” if you are interested.

Well, that’s it for now. I’ll try to introduce some more topics that would be helpful for you to know in understanding the Korean culture, including these kind of ‘parodies’ found in signboards, so if you have any questions or requests, please let me know.