Daum’s Easy English (금상첨화!)

So much about language learning is about individual perspective.  For example, my own mother tongue, culture, and the values I was brought up with influences how quickly I learn certain Korean phrases or bits of Korean culture.  Needless to say, the things I can identify with, I learn more quickly.

That being said, although I use Marathi and my Indian background to connect to Korean, English is clearly my stronger language.  And as my Korean inches beyond the intermediate stage, I find myself reading more and more about English in Korean and I’ve actually learned a lot.  I began to pick up so-and-so Korean phrase is equivalent in meaning to blah-blah English and that’s really helping my writing and communication.  A fair warning though:  I’ve looked at a few “teach yourself English”-type books in Korean and am often baffled by the expressions and example sentences in the books.  Most of them are just BAD.

Now, I’m a steadfast Daum user (pretty sure I’m in the minority, but I can’t stand Naver) and I love the Daum 어학사전.  Recently(?), I found even greater reason to love it.  Daum’s Easy English series (which you can find on the 어학사전 home page) features some of the best and simplest explanations of English phrases and idioms I’ve seen to date.  The Korean explanations are easy to understand and the examples, for the most part, natural in both English and (I think) Korean.  The best part is they provide a really great Korean counterpart to the English phrase being defined – that means I usually learn something too!


I recently learned a very relevant 사자성어 from one of the Easy English posts.  I’ve been kind of… skirting around learning these four-character idioms but my language partner Kwang-im actually uses them a lot (she also insists that I should know them because I’m a graduate student and thus should use ‘high-level’ Korean heh).

Anyway, the phrase is in the title of the post:  금상첨화 [錦上添花] basically means ‘the icing on the cake.’

Breaking down the Hanja we have:

  • [비단 금]:  silk
  • 上 [위 상]:  on top of
  • [더할 첨]:  to add/increase
  • 花 [꽃 화]:  flower

Together, you get the Korean definition of the phrase:   ‘비단 위에 꽃을 더한다는 뜻으로, 좋은 일 위에 더 좋은 일이 더하여짐을 비유적으로 이르는 말.’  (Adding flowers on top of silk – that is, having something good happen on top of something that’s already good in the first place.)

Flowers on silk, icing on cake.  Same meaning, different metaphor!

I’ve always liked Daum but the fact that it has this really great series, 진짜 금상첨화이다!


Another tidbit I learned from my language partner.

We were talking about names and such and she said that her own name was rather unusual by Korean standards.  When my language partner was born, her father legally named her this somewhat odd name without consulting her mother, which upset her mother so much that she called my language partner an entirely different (more common) name  for most of her early childhood.  The reason her father named her thus was because of 태몽.

태몽[胎夢] breaks down to 胎 (아이를 배다 태) and 夢(꿈 몽).  The definition is easy to figure out from the Hanja – 태몽 is a dream about a child that is about to be born.  This dream is sometimes dreamt by the mother herself but can be dreamt by close family members as well – the father, grandparents, aunt, uncle, etc.  Traditionally, the content of the dream is supposed to tell you something about the gender, nature, and/or future successes of the child.  Sometimes, as in the case of my language partner, parents name their child based off 태몽.

For example, suppose one dreams about a dragon.  Supposedly, if one sees the horns or head of the dragon, the child will be a handsome boy; if one sees the tail, the child will be a beautiful girl.  Regardless of the child’s gender, a dream containing a dragon is considered very auspicious since dragons symbolize power and authority.  Dreams about tigers are also considered very auspicious.  Since tigers are considered companions of the Mountain God, these types of 태몽 indicate that the child will be very noble and mighty in nature.  Dreams about riding tigers, being bitten by tigers, or being embraced by one supposedly indicate the child will be a boy whereas dreams about tigers entering your home indicate the child will be a girl (source).

This was just a sampling, but there are tons of stuff about 태몽 interpretations out there.  If you’re curious, just type in ‘태몽 풀이’ into your favorite search engine and read away.  It’s quite interesting and will give you insight into what certain animals, fruits, etc. symbolize in Korean culture.

I’m not sure if there’s anything similar to this in American culture and I’m fairly certain there isn’t anything like this in Indian culture.  Interestingly, my family believes in something like the opposite of 태몽.  My parents and grandparents often say that when a person passes away, his/her spirits says its final farewell by visiting close family members’ dreams.  A rather interesting, unexpected parallel!