Caveat: 누은나무에 열매 안연다

I have been neglecting my Korean aphorisms, for this past year. That should change – just because I’ve left Korea doesn’t mean I intended to abandon the Korean language.

I’ll try to return to a once-a-week habit. Saturday seems like a good day to make “aphorism day.” Here, then, is a Korean aphorism from my book of aphorisms, and relevant to my new lifestyle.

누은나무에 열매 안연다 yeol.mae an.yeon.da
lying-tree-FROM fruit NOT-open
A fallen tree does not yield fruit.

I am of some doubt about what verb it is at the end. The best guess is 열다, “open,” conjugated in the plain present indicative. The dictionary doesn’t suggest that “yield” (as in yield/give fruit or profits) as a possible meaning. But I could see it as an extended meaning, metaphorically, in the sense that a tree “opens up” and gives its fruit.

The aphorism book suggests the pragmatic meaning is parallel to “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” I’m not sure I quite see that, but I guess so. I would rather imagine the point being that you have to think about the future – if you cut the tree now, you’ll not get any fruit in the future. That’s not exactly the same as “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” But it’s related.

Regardless, I think the aphorism-creator wasn’t thinking of all the firewood you can get. I speak from experience.