Category: Vocabulary

꿀잠을 자다

On the unofficial list of nerdier things I love in life, I have to say that idioms rank pretty high.  I like discovering Korean idioms through reading them in context but, just as in English, the disconnect between the literal and figurative meaning often makes me scratch my head confusion.  Many of them prove challenging to learn and retain, but once in a rare while I come across one that makes me go, “Aha, I totally get this!”

That’s exactly how I felt when I stumbled upon this particular idiomatic expression.

꿀잠을 자다.

You know that overbearing feeling of doom and stress that you get during midterms or final exam week?  During which you study for hours upon hours and then take back-to-back exams for two straight weeks?  More important, you know that feeling after your last exam?  That’s when the pure adrenaline you’re running on comes to a crashing stop and wave upon wave of fatigue from all those lost hours of sleep washes over you and your eyelids feel so heavy that they feel like they’re made of lead.

(…Yeah, the last time I actually had a final exam week like that was 3 years ago and I still can’t get over the feeling.)

The night after the last exam of finals week, right before glorious winter or summer break, is the night I sleep so deeply and soundly that I’m pretty much lost to another dimension.

‘꿀잠’ is essentially that type of unadulterated, deep slumber.  Breaking it down, it’s easy to see where the meaning comes from.  ‘꿀’ means honey and ‘잠’ means sleep, so putting that together, you get honey sleep.  Sleep that is so sweet and satisfactory, it’s like honey.  That’s pretty close to what the Korean dictionary from Daum defines 꿀잠 as: ‘아주 달게 자는 잠.’

꿀잠을 자는 코니 ㅋㅋ
꿀잠을 자는 코니 ㅋㅋ

Obviously, the ideal situation is that you get a good night’s sleep every night and don’t pull all-nighters, but let’s be real, when does that ever happen?  Heh.  Now that I’m out of school, I usually experience 꿀잠 the night after big presentations (i.e. lab meetings and talks) and project deadlines.  Even though it’s unhealthy and stressful (and I don’t condone it!), procrastinating actually helps me deliver a better product more efficiently…. And nothing is sweeter than the 꿀잠 I have the night after it’s all done.

병주고 약 준다

I don’t know how to feel about 괜찮아, 사랑이야.  The music directing is awful, its portrayal of psychiatric patients is at times cliched and insensitive, the writing makes me cringe, and the camerawork is just whack.  On the other hand, Gong Hyo-jin and Jo In-sung.  Swoon.  That was enough of a plus that I marathoned the first six episodes in 1.5 days.  Things are getting just interesting enough that I may actually continue with the show for a while longer.

Anyway, there is particular scene at the end of episode two that reminded me of an idiom that my language partner taught me last year; I’ve wanted to make a post about it since and hearing it again in this drama prompted me to finally do so.  In this particular scene, mystery-horror novelist Jung Jae-yeol accidentally (and very tactlessly) revealed that his housemate – psychiatrist Ji Hae-soo – was being cheated on by her boyfriend.  After several days of bearing the brunt of Hae-soo’s cold shoulder, he finally tries to reconcile the relationship by offering her a late-night glass of red wine.

(image source)

지해수:  뭐?
정재열:  말이 쩝네요.
지해수:  용건이 무엇이옵니까?
정재열:  위로주.
지해수:  위로주.  병주고 약 주니?

The phrase ‘병주고 약 준다’ literally means ‘giving the disease and giving the medicine.’  You use it when a person who initially caused you some kind of grief or problem later attempts to better the situation by offering a remedy.  In this case, Jae-yeol caused Hae-soo and her boyfriend to break up in a humiliating way by revealing the boyfriend’s two-timing during a house party; Jae-yeol then tries to make Hae-soo feel better about the breakup by offering her a glass of wine (위로주).  Hae-soo scoffs at this conciliatory gesture, rhetorically asks if he’s trying to give her a remedy for the hurt he caused her, and then – in true K-drama fashion – she splashes a glassful of the proffered ‘약’ right in his face.  I’m not sure if this was intentional on the part of the writers but using this idiom is even more appropriate considering that Hae-soo is a doctor herself.

Another idiom with a similar meaning is ‘술 먹여 놓고 해장 가자 부른다’ which translates to something like ‘making you drink alcohol and then helping you get over your hangover.’  For some reason, that sounds more sinister than the disease/medicine version.

In terms of the drama itself?  Gong Hyo-jin and Jo In-sung are electric on screen but whether or not the chemistry is enough to keep me watching is another question entirely.  I might just do it, though.

Organizing new vocab

Part of the reason I’ve never liked formal language classes (or even textbooks, for that matter) is because I like learning new grammar and vocabulary in the context of original (native) reading material.  I can’t deal with “themed” chapters (e.g. “Chapter 2: Weather”) that force me to memorize relevant words from a word list.

But my problem with reading original stuff is that I jump around between several different novels, webtoons, and news articles at a time.  A lot.  On top of that, because I make it a habit of jotting down words I don’t know, one page of my notebook can be a jumbled mess of words and definitions from five different sources.  This really really bothers me because I tend to learn words in clusters (e.g. learning the words ‘detective,’ ‘prosecutor,’ ‘murder’, ‘death penalty’ together because they’re often used in combination with each other).  So it throws me off when I’m looking over a page that’s half-filled with detective vocabulary that then switches to words about painting and geometry.  Then I don’t remember either sets of words effectively.

I puzzled over how to solve this problem of organizing my vocabulary for a long while.  It didn’t seem cost- (or space-)effective to start a new notebook for every Korean novel I owned.  I switched for some time to using a binder and writing on printer paper.  Then I could organize the pages of vocabulary notes according to different novels, articles, etc.  But the paper buildup started getting annoying and I didn’t want to fill up my shelves with binders upon binders of Korean vocabulary.  So  then, I came up with this solution.  For online articles, I simply copy and paste the text into a Word document and voila.


I use the “Comments” feature to highlight all the words I don’t know and type up the definitions.  This is an article about 나인: 아홉번의 시간여행 which appeared in Ceci a few months ago (side note: some of these words I’ve already committed to my long-term memory!)  This is really helpful when I’m practicing translation too; I can just type up the English portion below the Korean text and use the comments as a reference.  Also, it’s great for visualizing how much my vocabulary has improved over the past several years/months.  Provided that I read the same genre over time, the number of words I highlight in every article will be bound to decrease as my vocabulary builds up.  (Again, this depends on the type of thing I read.  If I suddenly started reading economic news instead of celebrity interviews, without a doubt I would have crazy highlights all over the article.)

Okay but what about hard copy stuff?  For now, this is what works for me.

2013-11-27 00.07.07This is a page from 바람의 화원 and, as you can see, I’ve used Post-It notes.  Personally, I hate marking up my books (unless it’s for an English Lit class) so this is a good alternative.  Plus the notes are stuck roughly in the same area as where the unfamiliar words are located in the text.  The only issue this poses is that it makes going back and reading kind of inconvenient because you have to move the notes aside – and then they lose their stickiness and falling out.  Urgh.  But thus far it’s working for me!

So much of how well you learn or retain something depends on knowing how you yourself learn best, which is why I decided to write this post.  I still suck at retaining new vocabulary but I’m definitely getting better now that I have these note-taking strategies in place.  There’s really no right or wrong way to learn or study.  Trying different things and figuring out what works for you is the hard part!



백마병 & 도끼병

If you watch Korean dramas, you’re probably already familiar with 왕자병 (“prince disease”) and 공주병 (“princess disease”) – words that basically describe obnoxiously entitled, often 싸가지 없는 youth (an excellent example is 이승기’s character in 찬란한 유산).

백마병 and 또기병 fall under a similar category of exasperating people to be around.  Any idea what they might mean?

A prince usually rides 백마 (a white horse) while traveling or making ceremonial rounds through local villages, and the commoners bow and clap for the prince.  However, the horse, not knowing any better, prances and preens thinking all the attention is for itself.  It follows that 백마병 describes a condition in which a person always thinks another party is interested in them.

도끼병 describes the same type of person.  도끼 is “axe” which goes in hand with 찍다, meaning to chop (도끼로 찍다 = to chop with an axe).  However, in a colloquial way, the verb 찍다 can also take a person as topic or direct object and mean “to claim”, “to indicate”, “to name as one’s own”, “to have in mind.”  For example:

개는 내가 찍었다.  =  She’s mine./I’m keeping an eye on her.
찍어둔 사람 있어?  = Do you have someone in mind?

Putting those two things together, 도끼병 describes a person who thinks other people are always claiming him/herself as their own.

So basically, these two phrases describe people who always think other people have crushes on them.  I can imagine that being around a person who’s always fantasizing about so-and-so liking him/her can be annoying, but I think we’ve all contracted a self-resolving case of this disease at some point.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether a person is being nice for the sake of being nice in a purely platonic way, or whether that person is interested in something more!


I thought 헐 was just about the greatest thing, until my LP 언니 taught me this gem.

뷁 is used on the internet when there is no appropriate exclamation or word to describe the extent of one’s dissatisfaction.  That is:

NOUN+은/는 좋지 않다 can become NOUN+은/는 뷁같다 or 뷁스럽다.

I imagine this is used kind of like “blehhhh” or “mehhhh” – general, noncommittal sounds of dissatisfaction in English.  It’s embarrassing how often I use ‘bleh’/’meh’ to express myself at the cost of using more intelligent adjectives, and now I can do it Korean too!  Not good.  Heh.

So I tried looking up a few other things about this word (can you call it a word, even?) and found out that it originated from a lyric that went “왜 날 브레이크” from Moon Heejun (of H.O.T)’s solo song “I.”  When said quickly, 브레이크 (‘break’) sounds a lot like 뷁.  The funny thing is that netizens made fun of the song and his pronunciation by pasting his face onto 100원 coins (백원 = 뷁원).  So mean!  Check out the original song here (and I apologize for your ears in advance heh).


마의 16세

This is the funniest piece of Korean slang I have learned EVER.  It’s pure gold.

So here’s the context.  The phrase is 마의 16세.  마(魔) comes from 마귀 마, where 마귀 means ‘evil spirit’ or ‘demon.’  It’s the same 마 that’s in 악마 (‘demon’, ‘devil’), 마술 and 마법 (‘witchcraft’, ‘magic’), and 마녀 (‘witch’).  So not a good thing, right?  16세 is sixteen years old, in Korean age (so 14/15 Western age), and this is significant because it is the age when students finish middle school and enter high school.

Basically, 마의 16세 refers to one’s transition from an adorable child to an awkward young adult.  Puberty hits and, bam, so does the acne, the growth spurts (either vertically or horizontally), the braces, the glasses – all the physical and emotional changes that made the transition from child to teenager oh-so painful.  This phrase covers the latter part of puberty – the transition into adulthood – and, interestingly, it seems to apply mostly to boys, whose physical appearance changes more dramatically in a short period of time (in some instances), than girls.  Regardless, I don’t miss those days.

It’s possible that sixteen-year-olds might say something like ‘마의 16세만 넘기면 된다,’ but the really funny thing is that this phrase doesn’t seem to be commonly used to refer to Koreans themselves.  It seems that some Koreans believe that the physical features of Asians do not change significantly between  adolescence and adulthood, or that they make that transition smoothly without an ‘ugly’ period (e.g. look at 유승호 and 여진구!).  In fact, this phrase might be used almost exclusively for Westerners.  

The funniest thing about all this is that the origins of this phrase, according to my Language Partner 언니, comes from Daniel Radcliffe (of Harry Potter fame)’s shocking transformation from adorable 10-year-old to… less-than-adorable* teenager?  Oh dear.  Of course, I don’t know how true this is but some snooping around on the interwebs has informed me that a lot of people associate this phrase with Dan’s post-puberty transformation.  Face-palm.

*Not my personal opinion, just reporting the general consensus.  We all have our ideas of what is attractive and what is not, but I don’t like throwing around words like ‘ugly’ at anybody.

잠귀가 밝다/어둡다

Yekyung has an incredible ability to know exactly which words and phrases I might not be familiar with when we’re conversing.  Like she’ll go on for a couple minutes in Korean and then suddenly stop and say, “Do you know 모모?”  That’s how I learned this phrase.

잠귀(가) 밝다:  to be a light sleeper
잠귀(가) 어둡다:  to be a deep sleeper

잠귀 is pretty easy to figure out.  It’s just a concatenation of 잠 (sleep) + 귀 (ear).

잠귀:  잠결에 소리를 듣는 귀의 감각.  Your ability to hear when you’re asleep.

밝다 and 어둡다 are kind of funny to me because 밝다 literally means “to be bright” and 어둡다 means “to be dark” – so the translation isn’t exactly literal.

I used to be a 잠귀 밝은 사람.  I had trouble falling asleep anywhere but my own bed and I woke up at the slightest noise – but then graduate school happened.  Unsurprisingly, I now have no trouble sleeping like a rock at any given time or place, including during seminars.  Or so I thought.  Yekyung has got to be the most 잠귀가 어두운 사람 I have ever met.  She needs to set six alarms to get up in the morning… and then she makes fun of me for being a sleepyhead!  XD

Ten Korean words I can never remember

As you guys might know already, I dislike memorizing vocabulary words.  Most of the Korean words I know are from reading articles and books, listening to podcasts and songs (especially rap – I’ve learned so many great words from Epik High), and watching variety shows and dramas.  I’d rather learn words slowly and naturally through context than force myself to study stacks of flashcards.  It might be slower but the retention rate is better, in my case.

There are some words that I hear once or twice and remember forever because of the particular context I read them in.  For example, I will forever remember 고구마 = sweet potato because of 우결 and I learned a lot of entertainment industry-related vocabulary by reading celebrity news.

But there are some words that I see over and over and over and over again in different contexts that I have to look up EVERY SINGLE TIME.  I don’t know why they refuse to stick.  I write them down over and over again, to no avail.  Some of these words stump me because they have so many definitions to them; others are just verbs or adjectives that I find difficult to learn through context.  Maybe jotting them down here will help?

1) 파악하다 (타동사)(사람이 어떤 대상의 내용이나 성질 따위를)충분히 이해하여 확실하게 알다.

2) 넘어가다 (자동사) = 쓰러지다; to set, sink, go down; 옮아가다; 속다; to be swallowed; to be turned over

3) 겪다 (타동사)to undergo, experience, suffer

4) 딱히 (부사) = (not) necessarily, (not) always, (not) exactly, (not) completely

5) 유쾌하다 (형용사) = (사람이나 그 기분이)즐겁고 상쾌하다.

6) 대상 (명사) = the subject, object, target (of study)

7) 살짝 (부사) = 남이 모를 정도로 재빠르게; 심하지 않게 약간; 힘을 들이지 않고 가볍게.

8) 개념 (명사) = 생각; 철학

9) 흩어지다/흐트러지다 (자동사) = (한곳에 모여 있던 무엇이)각각 떨어지거나 퍼지다.

10) 흥미 (명사) = 흥(fun, interest, merriment)을 느끼는 재미; 어떠한 사물에 대해 느끼는 특별한 관심.

Oh man, they look so simple now that I’ve listed them out!  (Of course the list itself isn’t exhaustive.)  Haha.  My vocabulary is so bad. :(

What are some words YOU find difficult to remember?

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.