Category: Vocabulary

아쉽다

Interview Week came to an end on Friday.  It was an exciting time for me because I still have vivid memories of my own graduate school interview circuit (has it really been a year since then?!) and I was definitely looking forward to experiencing it from the other side of admissions this time around.

Most of the graduate students in the program participate in Interview Week as student hosts – basically, our job is to accompany the interviewee to his/her nine interviews, answer questions about the program, entertain, and (most importantly) pitch the school.

I chose to host Yekyung, a post-graduate student from Yonsei University.  I had an incredible time showing her around campus and by the end of her four-day stay here, we had already become fast friends.  In fact, we’ve still been in touch through Kakaotalk and Skype since she went back to Korea!  It just goes to prove that there are some people you can make an instant connection with, even if you haven’t known them for long.  I know regardless of where she goes to graduate school, she’ll always be a good friend, a wonderful 언니, and a great language partner!

After finishing her interviews, we took a walk around campus and chatted for something like 2.5 hours in a mix of Korean and English and had a really great time just relaxing and talking about Korean, English, entertainment, and culture.  When it was time for her to leave, Yekyung asked me if I knew what 아쉽다 means.

I think 아쉽다 is one of those multi-layered words that can take on subtly different meanings depending on the context.  I’m not sure if there’s a single English word that can be used in all the contexts that 아쉽다 can be used in – but I always thought of it as feeling like you’ll miss something or don’t want something to end or go away.  The dictionary definition is “to want for,” “to miss,” “to feel inconvenienced by the lack of.”

But Yekyung phrased her definition of 아쉽다 beautifully:  “Feeling like you wish time would stop.”

I was so touched when she put it that way. :’)

칠거지악

I can’t adequately express how much I’m loving 해를 품은 달 (The Moon That Embraces the Sun) these days.  It’s been a really, really long time since I’ve been this emotionally invested in a story of any kind and it feels refreshingly good.  Although I’d say I’m enjoying the novel a tiny smidgen more than the drama at the moment, the first few episodes of the drama really swept me off my feet.  The child actors are so precious and talented; I just want to keep them in my pocket forever and ever!  This scene from episode four is one of my favorites:

: 가만. 설마 너 나와 그 아이를 질투하는 것이냐?
연우: 예? 아님니다.
: 이거 큰일이구나. 투기는 여인의 칠거지악 중 하나거늘…  나의 비가 될 아이가 이리 투기심이 많아서야…
연우: 아니라는데 왜 자꾸 그러십니- 예?
: 세자빈 간택이 시작된다는 말이다.  너도 처녀단제를 올릴테지? 기다리겠다.  너라면 분명 세자빈이 될 수 있을 것이다.

칠거지악 is a curious little word that I wasn’t familiar with.  I’ve seen it translated as “The Seven Deadly Sins” but that’s not what it literally means.

칠거지악 [명사]조선 시대, 아내를 내쫓을 수 있는 이유가 되는 일곱 가지의 허물. 곧 시부모에게 순종하지 아니하는 것(不順舅姑), 자식을 낳지 못하는 것(無子), 행실이 음탕한 것(淫), 질투하는 것(妬), 나쁜 병이 있는 것(惡症), 말이 많은 것(多言), 도둑질을 하는 것(盜) 등을 이른다. (source)

During the Joseon era, these were seven reasons for divorcing a wife:  Disobedience to her in-laws.  Inability to bear children.  Promiscuity.  Jealousy.  Having an incurable disease.  Talking too much.  Stealing.  

I did a bit more research into 칠거지악 and learned that it is a Confucius teaching found in 대학(大學) or The Great Learning, one of the 사서(四書) or Four Books which, along with the The Three Classics, make up the definitive texts of Confucianism.  Collectively, they are called 사서삼경(四書三經) or the Four Books and Three Classics.

Unsurprisingly, there is no equivalent for a woman wanting to divorce a man.  However, I did read that there are three exceptional situations in which a man cannot divorce his wife, even if she commits one of the seven faults under 칠거지악:

  1. If she has no other place to go.
  2. If she has mourned his parents for three years.  (i.e. She demonstrates filial piety.)
  3. If she was at first poor and then became rich after getting married.  (i.e. She raised her family’s social status through marriage.)

I remember learning a little bit about Confucianism forever ago in high school but not terribly in depth.  I wouldn’t say I’m… completely interested in learning about it but in the context of sageuk dramas, it definitely helps to understand Confucianism to understand certain plot points and bits of dialogue.  It’s also a novel experience (no pun intended)  trying to read up on Confucianism in Korean… yeah… I think I’ll stick to English for now.

싱글벙글

It’s been a week since I’ve moved to California and (unsurprisingly) I haven’t had time to study Korean AT ALL.  We’ve been busy with three straight days of orientation from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM and, in the meantime, I’ve been trying to adjust to living on my own for the first time ever.  This is a really emotionally and mentally stressful time for me for various reasons, but I’m still trying to go about doing things, 싱글벙글 웃으면서!

싱글벙글 is such a cute word, I can’t help but smile when I say it to myself – which is appropriate, considering that it means to do something “smilingly” or “with a broad smile.”

Hope you’re all having a great day!

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.

Learning versus memorizing

When I first started out learning Korean,  I learned most of my grammar and vocabulary by translating Korean songs.  These days, I pick up new words by reading books, 만화, articles, and watching interviews and reality shows.  But the critical question is, of course, how does one retain this seemingly endless onslaught of unfamiliar words?  With regards to that, I’ve seen that there are usually two factions of language-learners:  those who swear by flashcards and those who condemn them.  I fall under the latter category.

Honestly, I like to think I have a fairly good memory (you can’t really be a scientist without one heh) but I just cannot memorize decks and decks of flashcards and store them in my long-term memory.  And this problem isn’t just limited to Korean.  I made about 200 flashcards in order to study vocabulary for the GRE but the only words I could remember consistently were the ones I had encountered while reading something.  Why was this the case?  I strongly believe it was because I was incapable of just memorizing definitions; I had to actually learn how to use the words for it to stick.

The general way I go about learning new vocabulary is this:  I pick a song or an article or a passage out of a book and write down all the words I don’t know.  Then I look up the words in a dictionary and write down the part of speech and the definition that most closely matches the context of the word.  I don’t bother with writing down numerous example sentences (maybe one or two); the main example is already in the original source.  After that, I DO NOT SPEND HOURS MEMORIZING THE WORDS I’VE LOOKED UP.  I’m a huge proponent of learning a language organically – that is, not really forcing yourself to sit down and STUDY (I mean, unless you’re in a language class or something.)  My language acquisition process is kind of undisciplined in that regard.

But despite that, I noticed the more I read, the more I would come across a certain new word or phrase I’d just looked up in the dictionary.  Sometimes while I watched a drama, I would start picking out those newly-encountered words in the dialogue as well.  Soon, I would develop a fairly good sense of not only the definition of the word, but also its nuance and the context in which it’s usually used.  That right there is the difference between memorizing vocabulary and learning vocabulary.  To me, memorizing is superficial recollection of the definition of a word through repetition but learning implies that you know how to correctly use the word yourself in different contexts.  That sort of solid, thorough understanding cannot be attained by merely seeing the word once, noting its definition, and then losing it in a stack of 200 flashcards.  It’s critical that one develops a deeper knowledge of how the word is used by encountering it in not just one but several different circumstances.

Nouns don’t present that much of a challenge; in fact, I would say that flashcards are effective for the rote memorization of nouns.  But one has to be careful to learn how to appropriately use certain adjectives and verbs.  When I wrote my entries for Lang-8, I tried to use only the words I felt I had learned well enough to use correctly (you might argue this defeats the purpose of Lang-8, but I’ve noticed that many native speakers just correct a misused word without really explaining why).  I only looked up nouns and avoided looking up adjectives and verbs.  Undoubtedly, the one unfamiliar adjective I used, I had used incorrectly.

Of course, I’m not saying there’s no merit in flashcards.  In fact, I applaud you if you can retain new words in your long-term memory with just rote memorization (I can’t, no matter how hard I try.)  Flashcard proponents may also argue that it’s fine to quickly and steadily build a base of words that you “semi-know” (i.e. know only the basic definition but don’t use that much) and then wait for the deeper understanding (i.e. the nuance, stylistic usage) to come later.  I think that’s fine too, but personally, the only way I can remember a new word is if I learn its definition in tandem with how and in what context it’s used.

The only issue with my way of learning vocabulary is that it can be slow.  If I look up 100 new words in the span of a week, because I don’t force myself to memorize, I’ll probably only learn the twenty that I encounter over and over again.  But the advantage is that I usually end up knowing those 20 new words fairly well; they’ll be nestled in my long-term memory, ready to be used when needed.

Korean grammar terms

When I just can’t find good explanations of more advanced (?) Korean grammar points in English, I resort to searching for explanations in Korean.  I’ve also started to use the 국어 사전 more these days to look up words I don’t know (and to learn new words while I’m at it!)  Anyway, I’ve begun compiling a list of Korean grammatical terms that’ll hopefully make it easier to understand dictionary entries and grammar explanations in Korean.  I’ll probably add more to this list in the future but here’s what I have so far.

Edit:  I decided to make a separate page for this topic.

인감도장

Anybody else out there watching 49일?  I’m enjoying it so far.  It’s nothing spectacular, but it’s entertaining and… I don’t know if the dialogue is relatively simple or if my Korean is getting better but I’m starting to realize that I don’t need to rely on subtitles as much anymore!  But then, when I inadvertently start to glance away from the subtitles, I freak out and look down at them again (it’s like riding a bicycle – the instant you realize you’re riding without training wheels, you start wobbling again.)

So, until recently, I was really confused about the whole seal thing.  What was the seal?  (I kept imagining the old-fashioned way of sealing letters – you know, with hot wax and a signet ring).  Why was the seal important? Why did Ji Hyun mix it up with a tube of lipstick?  What does it have to do with her land?  Why are Min Ho and In Jung trying to steal it???  So I decided to do some research on the 인감도장 (“registered personal seal”) that the characters kept obsessing over and now I think I have a fair idea of why it’s so important.

I learned that the personal seal, used in Japan, Korea, and China, is equivalent to a signature on an official document.  Although, “equivalent” might not be the right word here since many documents can require both a signature AND a registered seal to be considered “valid.”  Apparently, there are different types of 도장 (personal seals) of different levels of legal importance.  The 인감도장 is officially registered and is used for more important business transactions.  So basically, in the context of 49일, Ji Hyun’s land (which was part of the business deal Min Ho was trying to close) couldn’t be sold without her seal on the documents.  And the reason Ji Hyun mixed it up with a tube of lipstick is… well, it really looks like a tube of lipstick (not a ring like I thought, haha).

Anyway, this is just something I found interesting because I’ve never heard about it before (forgive my poor Westernized education) and I don’t really know anything about it, so feel free to correct me if there are any mistakes.  And, GO WATCH 49일!

(Source)

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꽃샘추위

Where I live, we don’t have four seasons.

In the summer, it gets very hot and stays warm until the end of November.  Then, out of the blue, in the middle of December we get sleet and ice.  It stays cold through February and then BAM one day in the middle of March it gets up to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 deg. Celsius).  Then it proceeds to get hotter and hotter through the summer.  While I was walking around in short sleeves last week, I heard (through Twitter) that it was raining and snowing in Korea. SNOW. IN MARCH.

My friend Jeannie said it was 꽃샘추위.  I wasn’t entirely sure what that was so I looked it up and found that it’s roughly translated as “spring frost.”  Well, I wasn’t entirely satisfied with that explanation so I found an article about on (the Korean) Wikipedia:

꽃샘추위는 초봄에 날씨가 풀린 뒤 다시 찾아오는 일시적인 추위를 가리키는 고유어이다. 꽃이 피는 것을 시샘하는 듯이 춥다고 해서 이 이름이 붙었다. 꽃샘추위가 오면 갑자기 쌀쌀해진 날씨에 사람들은 옷을 두껍게 입고 다닌다. 꽃샘추위는 시베리아 고기압에 의한 것이다. 즉 겨울의 한기는 시베리아에서 유입되며 겨울에 시베리아 고기압의 영향을 받는 곳(중국이나 일본)에서도 꽃샘추위 비슷한 늦한기가 있다. 일본에도 ‘하나비에(はなびえ)’라는 유사한 뜻의 단어가 있다.

꽃샘추위 (kkot saem chuwi) is a word native to Korea that refers to the brief spell of cold weather that comes around in early spring after it gets warm.  The name stuck because it was said that the cold is jealous of the flowers blooming (Translation note:   꽃 = flower; 샘 = jealousy; 추위 = cold). During 꽃샘추위, the weather gets suddenly chilly and people go out wearing bulky clothes.  꽃샘추위 is due to the high atmospheric pressure from Siberia.  That is to say, while the chill of winter comes in from Siberia, when it is winter in Siberia, the places affected by the high atmospheric pressure (China and Japan) also experience a later chill similar to 꽃샘추위.  In Japan, “hanabie” is a word of similar meaning.

Source:  Wikipedia

I am fairly certain we don’t have anything like the Korean “spring frost” over here, but this entire week is COLD. (Relatively at least). It was in the 70s and 80s last week and this week it’s 20 degrees colder, rainy, and windy. The weather has been really schizophrenic this year.

I supposed I should get used to the cold, though.  Chances are I will be in a much colder place come this fall, wherever graduate school might take me.