Vocabulary
Comments 3

욕 (辱)

욕 [yok] is an interesting word.  I hear it in a lot of Korean songs and, more often that not, it’s a word that’s awkwardly translated into English.

As a noun, it means a “swear word” or “curse.”  In the verb form [욕하다], it can mean “to swear at,” “to curse at,” “to speak ill of,” “to slander,” “to [verbally] abuse,” “to badmouth,” “to revile,” etc.

It’s not that hard to translate the word when it’s in it’s present, affirmative form; the awkwardness comes when you’re using the imperative (i.e. commanding or prohibiting someone to do something.)

For example, I’ve seen 욕해 translated as “curse me,” where “curse” sounds more sorcerous than slanderous.  Curse at me would be more accurate but that sounds odd in English.  As does “revile me,” “speak ill of me,” “swear at me,” etc.  Personally, I’d go for a looser translation and use “hate/despise me” or “scream/shout/yell at me” depending on the context, because the sentiment is the same (i.e. you don’t speak ill of someone to their face unless you (a) dislike them (b) are angry/frustrated.)

욕하지마 presents a similar problem.  I’ve usually always seen it translated as “don’t curse me” which makes me cringe (again, it should be “don’t curse at me.”)  But I think it’s more natural to say “don’t despise me” (and hence say bad things about me, etc.)

My translations aren’t perfect but it’s taught me one thing: a word in one language does not always equal a word with the same definition in another language. Translation is about capturing the meaning AND the sentiment of the original language.  Literal translations are just plain gross, people.

This entry was posted in: Vocabulary

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Writer by day, writer by night. Learning Korean and (some) Japanese since 2010.

3 Comments

  1. I know what you mean, literal translation subtitles make me cringe me too >< And I always search for English subtitles, because Spanish ones (which are usually easy to find) are usually literal tanslations of an English literal translation of something (ーー;)

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  2. BJ Yoo says

    Very true. It also shows that culture is really embedded in language. For example when you eat 설렁탕 you say 시원하다, you know? Even as a native Korean speaker this strikes me as really odd feature of Korea language. Other examples like 한 which really cannot be translated directly while the word itself is not being context-dependent at all.

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    • I remember when I started out learning Korean, I wanted to dedicate myself ONLY to the language and no part of the culture, because I didn’t want to be labeled as a “koreaboo” who is obsessed with Korea and K-pop. But as you said, it’s impossible to study language without understanding the culture! Now I find it really gratifying when I grasp the cultural context of a certain word or expression. Thanks for the comment! :)

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