The lovely Yulia encouraged me to make more 사극 말투 posts, so here we go.  Unfortunately, 해를 품은 달 and 성균관 유생들의 나날 are the only two Korean historical fiction novels I own so unless I get to watching more 사극 dramas, most of my examples are going to come from those novels.  The Moon/Sun sheen’s worn off a bit for me and I’m starting to notice how truly 오글오글 the writing is in this book but I’m still going to keep going with it hopefully!  It’s an amazing feeling to be able to comprehend Korean prose.

Having discovered that Wol was brought to the palace as his personal talisman, Hwon uses his headache as an excuse to see her early one day.  Being the shameless flirt he is, he kisses her on the cheek…

“아.  미안하구나.  놀라게 하려던 것은 아닌데.  그럼 놀라게 한 죄로 나도 벌을 받으마.”

The conversation turns back to Wol’s identity before she became a shaman.  Wol doesn’t have the answers but Hwon is determined to keep her by his side nevertheless.

“월아, 이렇게 다시 만났으니 이번에는 절대 놓치지 않을 것이다.  어떻게든 무적에서 빼낼 방법을 찾으마.  기다려 다오.”

V + 으마 is actually very simple.  It’s a verb/sentence ending that is used when the speaker is conveying his intention or promising to do something for someone.  Sound familiar?  From context, I’m guessing that it’s used in the same way as V + 을게, but exclusively by a person of higher status or older age to a person of lower status/younger age.  Loosely translated, then:

놀라게 한 죄로 나도 벌을 받으마(받을게). = I too will suffer punishment for frightening you.

어떻게든 무적에서 빼낼 방법을 찾으마 (찾을게).

Most importantly, don’t mix up V+ 으마 with V + 지마(라)!  It’s tempting because they look so similar.

방법을 찾지마! = Don’t look for a way!
방법을 찾으마!  = I will find a way!

Similar, but oh so different.

성질 급한… 한국사람?

So I just learned this expression from Jeannie today.  Let’s break it down!

  1. 성질:  temper
  2. 급하다:  to be urgent, pressing, in a hurry

Together, we get 성질(이) 급하다 = to be quick-tempered or to be impatient.   I’ve heard a lot about Koreans being impatient and wanting things to be fast, fast, fast all the time.  Though I can’t say this is all too unique to Korea; it seems like most people around the world are beginning to value their time a little too much, a little too unreasonably.  This is certainly the mentality shared by a lot of Americans.

But what are 성질 급한 한국사람들 like?  You might get a sense of it from last year’s rather hilarious Olleh CF.  (Thanks for sharing this with me, Jeannie!)

The tagline might be specific to Koreans but I certainly find myself relating to a couple of these situations!  Especially the printer and nailpolish cuts.  Haha!

쓸 데 없는 고퀄리티

I was reading a magazine article (a really interesting one which I’m currently in the process of translating.  Should be up in a couple days) and I came across this phrase.  I kind of figured out what it meant from context but a quick search and a LINE message to Yekyung clarified it for me.

This phrase is 유행어 – a popular phrase or “lingo.”  Let’s break it down.

  1. 쓸 데 없다:  useless, unnecessary, superfluous.  I’ve used this phrase a lot in the context of “쓸 데 없는 걱정/말.”
  2. 고퀄리티:  This comes from attaching the Hanja 高 (높을 고, 높이 고) to the English word “quality.”  높다, as you might know, means “to be high.”

Putting it together, 쓸 데 없는 고퀄리티 = ridiculously high quality.

What exactly gets does that mean?  I actually see this phrase mostly referring to things that are elaborately well made, but cannot bring the maker any real attention or profit.  That is, the time and effort put into making the thing, far exceeds the payoff.  For example, a doodle like the one below:


I found an article about the phrase over at 10Asia and it ended with this rather profound statement:

자신에게 쓸 데 없으나 세상을 위해 고퀄리티를 포기하지 않는 이들을 일컬어 우리는 예술가라 부른다.

Accidental Koreanizations?

Here’s yet another thing that sets Korean apart from all the other foreign languages I’ve ever attempted.  I find myself accidentally using Korean language conventions in English and in my native language of Marathi more and more these days.  And I don’t mean things like certain words or exclamations (아이씨, 아이고, 대박! etc.) – rather, accidental Koreanizations that are inadvertently creeping into my style of speech!  These are two especially sneaky ones:

Answering negative questions.  I think I’ve confused a lot of teachers and friends by accidentally using the Korean convention of answering negative questions.  These questions perplex me and somehow I’ve always been at a loss as to how to answer them unambiguously with a simple “yes” or “no” in English.  Some types of negative questions have a certain contextual polarity associated with them that doesn’t necessarily match with what the question is actually asking, so that gets confusing too.  In English, I usually  end up having to support my yes/no answer with extra verbiage to make it less ambiguous.  My logical head prefers the succinct, unambiguous Korean mode of answering negative questions.

To illustrate how confusing it can get, take this example:

Question:  Aren’t you Korean?
English:  No.  (=No, I’m not Korean.)
Korean:  No.  (=No, you are wrong.  I am Korean.)

I’ve always found this an intriguing difference between English and Korean.  The “aren’t you…” or “isn’t that/this…” implies a relative degree of certainty in English.  A question like “Aren’t you Korean?” translates to something more like, “I’m pretty sure you’re Korean.”  So that’s why in English, the “yes” or “no” reply directly addresses the latter statement than the actual question.  But in Korean, the sentence reads more like “Are you not Korean?”  So the “yes” or “no” reply goes with the “not Korean” part of the sentence.

Something slightly more confusing is stuff like

Question:  Don’t you have something to eat?
English:  No.  (=No, I don’t have anything to eat.)
Korean:  No.  (=No, you’re wrong.  I do have something to eat.)

More and more often these days, I find myself answering questions like these Korean-style and probably confusing the heck out of people while I’m at it.  Not sure how and why I started doing this, but in order to avoid unwarranted confusion, I’ve been making more of an effort to stay away from one-word “yes”/”no” answers.

Overusing the word “little.”  ‘좀’, the contracted form of 조금, doesn’t necessarily mean “little” all the time.  In some contexts, it can be used to sound a bit more polite, as in, “이거 좀 보세요.”  In other contexts it makes you sound a bit more exasperated, as in, “제발 좀 그만해라” or a bit more desperate, like in “날 좀 살려줘.”

In any case, I’ve actually started to adopt this type of speech while speaking in my mother tongue Marathi, using the Marathi word for “little” just like I would use 좀 in Korean.  My mom actually makes fun of me for it because it doesn’t make any sense at all in my native language!  I think it was easy for me to pick up this quirk because Korean and Marathi (most Indian languages, for that matter) are so structurally similar to each other, it was literally just a matter of substituting Marathi words for Korean words in certain cases.

Honestly I’m baffled as to how and why this “accidental Koreanization” of my two first languages occurred when I have never fully immersed myself in the Korean language.

Has anyone else experienced this?  In what manner and to what extent?