Caveat: 스님과 자동차

This is a Korean-language pun I saw online (mastodon). Unfortunately, because my Korean isn’t that good, mostly Korean puns go right over my head. I don’t even recognize them. This one I recognized as a pun, and I decided to try to figure it out. I have fond memories of classes with my Korean middle school students where they would try to explain, in English, some Korean pun or joke that had gone over my head. I always thought it made for a great intrinsic motivation for English learning and practice.

Q: 스님이 차에서 내리지 않는 이유는 뭘까요?

A: 차에 기도하기 때문이에요!

Q: Why couldn’t the monk get out of his car?

A: Because he was about to pray.

I think the pun is in the word(s) 차에 [cha.e], which in the question means “in the car” but in the answer means “about to”. So there’s some ambiguity in the answer, between “Because he was about to pray” vs “Because he was praying in the car”. To be clear – maybe I didn’t understand the joke. I welcome corrections by those more knowledgeable, and I’ll post them as updates if that happens.

CaveatDumpTruck Logo

Caveat: 소경이 넘어지면 막대 탓 한다

I found this aphorism in my book of Korean aphorisms.

소경이 넘어지면 막대 탓 한다

so.gyeong.i neom.eo.ji.myeon mak.dae tas han.da

blind-person-SUBJ stumble-COND stick fault make-PRES

If a blind person stumbles, it’s the stick’s fault.

This is just to say, you’re not blaming the right person. I think it’s pretty similar to “Bite the hand that feeds you.”

CaveatDumpTruck Logo

Caveat: 주인 보태줄 나그네 없다

I found this aphorism in my book of Korean aphorisms.

주인 보태줄 나그네 없다 bo.tae.jul eops.da

master support-give-FUTPART traveler not-exist-PRES

The supportive guest does not exist.

All guests become a liability to their host. This seems similar in meaning to the aphorism attribed to Ben Franklin, “Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.”

CaveatDumpTruck Logo

Caveat: 금년 새다리가 명년 쇠다리 보다 낫다

I found this aphorism in my book of Korean aphorisms.

금년 새다리가 명년 쇠다리 보다 낫다

[keum.nyeon myeong.nyeon soe.da.ri bo.da nas.da]

this-year bird-leg-SUBJ next-year cow-leg MORE-THAN is-better-PRES

A bird’s leg this year is better than a cow’s leg next year.

This has an easy equivalent in English’s aphorism, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” and such variants.
CaveatDumpTruck Logo

Caveat: 호랑이 굴에 들어가야 호랑이 새끼를 잡는다

I found this aphorism in my book of Korean aphorisms.

호랑이 굴에 들어가야 호랑이 새끼를 잡는다

ho.rang.i gul.e ho.rang.i sae.kki.reul jap.neun.da

tiger den-INTO enter-OBLIGATION tiger cub-OBJ catch-PRES

[One] must enter the tiger’s den [in order to] catch a tiger cub.

“No pain, no gain.”

If you really want to catch a tiger cub, there’s nothing that will do short of entering the tiger’s den. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained” is one possible English equivalent.

CaveatDumpTruck Logo

Caveat: 뿌리 없는 나무에 잎이 필까

I found this aphorism in my book of Korean aphorisms.

뿌리 없는 나무에 잎이 필까

ppu.ri eops.neun ip.i pil.kka

root not-exist-PART tree-LOC leaf-SUBJ bloom-INTERROG

Can leaves bloom on a tree without roots?

The meaning of this seems quite straightforward. For there to be an effect, there must be a cause. It reminds me of Lucretius’ observation, “Nil fieri ex nihilo” (nothing can come from nothing).

CaveatDumpTruck Logo

Caveat: 얕은 내도 깊게 건너라

I found this aphorism in my book of Korean aphorisms.

얕은 내도 깊게 건너라

yat.eun geon.neo.ra

be-shallow-PART river-CONJ be-deep-ADV cross-IMPER

Cross even a shallow river [as if it were] wide.

One should do everything with caution. Don’t let your guard down. The word 내 [nae] was hard to find – all the translation tools online want to render it “my” – that’s the most common meaning of the syllable, but that doesn’t make sense. I had to go to a hanja dictionary to find that it was the Sino-Korean pronunciation of 川, which means river or stream. That made more sense.

CaveatDumpTruck Logo

Caveat: 높은 가지가 부러지기 쉽다

I found this aphorism in my book of Korean aphorisms.

높은 가지가 부러지기 쉽다

nop.eun swib.da

be-high-PART branch-SUBJ break-NOM be-easy-INF

The high branch breaks easily.

This refers to the fact that the higher branches of a tree break more easily, and it’s a metaphor for how those who climb the highest socially experience the greatest loss when they fall. “The higher they climb, the harder they fall” seems the equivalent English language version.

CaveatDumpTruck Logo

Caveat: 찰 거머리 정

I found this aphorism in my book of Korean aphorisms.

찰 거머리 정

chal jeong

sticky leech passion

A sticky leech’s passion

There’s not much grammar going on here. It’s just a noun phrase. It refers to the excessively clingy lover – I suppose that’s what the parallel usage is in English: clingy. The word 정 [jeong] is complex and even problematic, but here I think passion is acceptable translation. I blogged about 정 here, many years ago.

CaveatDumpTruck Logo

Caveat: 활을 당겨 콧물을 씻는다

I found this aphorism in my book of Korean aphorisms.

활을 당겨 콧물을 씻는다

hwal.eul dang.gyeo kos.mul.eul ssis.neun.da

bow-OBJ pull snot-OBJ wipe-PRES

[Someone] draws the bow [and] wipes [their] snot.

Imagine your nose is running – maybe it’s cold outside. You’re an archer. You draw your bow, and in that moment, you wipe your nose with your sleeve. I think that this refers to availing oneself of any opportunity, regardless of appearances. Or… you do what must be done in the moment.


Caveat: 겨울 바람이 봄바람 보고 춥다한다

I found this aphorism in my book of Korean aphorisms.

겨울 바람이 봄바람 보고 춥다한다
gyeo.ul ba.ram.i bo.go chup.da.han.da
winter wind-SUBJ spring.wind try-AND cold-make-PRES
The winter wind blows cold at the spring wind.

This refers to the fact that a rude person will insult and find fault with a well-behaved person. No rest for the wicked, or something like that.


Caveat: 게으른 놈 짐 많이 진다

I found this aphorism in my book of Korean aphorisms.

#한국어 #한국어공부 #Aphorisms #Korean

게으른 놈 짐 많이 진다 nom jim manh.i jin.da

be-lazy-PART guy burden a-lot carry-PRES

The lazy guy carries a greater burden.

This refers to the fact that someone who is lazy will try to carry everything at once, in one load, rather than make multiple trips. I suppose it could also be indicative of the outcome of procrastination – the giant burden at the end is a consequence of laziness in doing a task systematically. I’m not sure what the precise English equivalent would be for this aphorism, but it’s certainly a relatable principle.


Caveat: 네 병이야 낫든 안낫든 내 약값이나 내라

I found this aphorism in my book of Korean aphorisms. I’m trying to do one of these each week.

네 병이야 낫든 안낫든 내 약값이나 내라

ne byeong.i.ya nas.deun an.nas.deun nae nae.ra

your illness-OF-COURSE recover-EITHER not-recover-OR my medicine-price-WHATEVER contribute-COMMAND

[Regardless whether] your illness is cured or not, you pay my medicine’s price.

This is how the US healthcare system works. And most healthcare systems, for that matter, but the price in the US is exceptionally high, I guess, and the insurance system is unreliable.


Caveat: 돌로치면 돌로치고 떡으로 치면 떡으로 친다

I found this aphorism in my book of Korean aphorisms. I’ve been neglecting this long-standing blog-habit of posting Korean aphorisms with my amateur efforts at translation. So here is a resumption… we’ll see how long that lasts.

돌로치면            돌로치고              떡으로          치면       떡으로           친다
dol.lo.chi.myeon  dol.lo.chi.go    chi.myeon    chin.da
stone-WITH-hit-IF stone-WITH-hit-CONJ rice-cake-WITH hit-IF    rice-cake-WITH hit-PRES
If hit with a stone, hit [back] with a stone, and if hit with a rice cake, [one] hits [back] with a rice cake.

This is in the same vein as “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” The grammar is pretty straightforward, though I’m always puzzled by the inconsistencies of spacing in Korean texts – basically I think people are allowed to make it up as they go: e.g. the first clause has the indirect object “with a stone” attached to the verb (no spacing), while the second clause has a space between the indirect object and the verb – with the same verb! What’s the rule? I have no idea. Anyway historically Korean had no spaces between words. So run-on text is the default, and any introduction of spaces between “words” is post hoc and without longstanding tradition.


Caveat: Poem #2229 “개”

귀찮안 개는
나무를 너무 봐요.
야, 왜 그렇게?

– a pseudo-haiku in elementary Korean. I composed it in my head (while walking the dog) with my remnants of active vocabulary, and it seems like I got the grammar right, but I found I had to look up various words’ spellings to write it down. My literacy skills are even rustier than my speaking/listening skills.

Here is a translation into English, retaining the haiku form:

An annoying dog
looking at too many trees.
Hey, why be like that?


Caveat: 아니 땐 굴뚝에 연기 날가

I found this aphorism in my book of Korean aphorisms.

아니    땐              굴뚝에 연기   날가   ttaen          gul.ttuk.e
if-not make-fire-PART chimney-IN  smoke   go-out-SUPPOS
Do you suppose smoke comes out of a chimney if one doesn't make a fire?

This is the same as, and similar to, “There’s no smoke without fire.” The last word gave me some difficulty. The verb is clearly 나다 [na.da = go out, exit], but there is no ending -ㄹ가 [-lga] in my grammar. Then I remembered that there was a spelling reform sometime in the 70’s or 80’s, when the combination -ㄹ까 [-lkka] was a “fixed” spelling, introduced to match pronunciation. The archaic spelling would have been -ㄹ가 [-lka], which is the spelling still used in North Korea, though in both South and North the pronunciation reflects the faucalized version of the consonant [k vs kk]. -ㄹ까 [-lkka] is what might be called a “suppositional” ending. Korean philology is so exciting!

Caveat: 진잎죽 먹고 잣죽 트림한다

I found this aphorism in my book of Korean aphorisms.

진잎죽              먹고          잣죽               트림한다
jin.ip             juk meok.go jas.juk           teu.rim.han.da
vegetable-porridge eat-CONJ    pine-nut-porridge belch-PRES
[One] eats vegetable porridge and belches pine-nut porridge.

This means that you’re putting on airs. A poor person eats vegetable porridge, but the wealthy, upper classes eat pine-nut porridge. So you eat the cheap stuff and tell people you’re belching the good stuff.


Caveat: 자빠져도 코가 깨여진다

I found this aphorism in my book of Korean aphorisms.

자빠져도                    코가       깨여진다       kkae.yeo.jin.da
fall-down-on-back-CONCESS nose-SUBJ break-PRES
Notwithstanding falling on one's back, one's nose is broken.

This means that misfortune follows on misfortune. “It never rains but it pours,” maybe.

I was a bit thrown off by the verb 깨여지다 ([kkaeyeojida] above in present tense with inserted -ㄴ-). The dictionary only lists 깨어지다 [kkaeeojida] (without palatization on the second syllable). I suspect an error in the book of aphorisms, either by the use of some non-standard regionalism or else a simple typo.


Caveat: 굽은 나무는 길마가지가 된다

I found this aphorism in my book of Korean aphorisms.

굽은             나무는       길마가지가               된다
gup.eun        doen.da
be-crooked-PART tree-TOPIC packsaddle-branch-SUBJ become-PRES
A crooked tree [can still] become a tree-swing.

This is to say, something that seems useless can still prove useful, when seen in the right light. The word 길마 [gilma] gave me some difficulty – I can’t actually find any online result to match the idea that it means “swing” – but I found that it can mean “packsaddle” (as on a donkey, ox, or horse), and that seems close enough semantically that I think that’s how this works. A “branch-packsaddle” seems a plausible idiom to express the idea of an a treeswing.


Caveat: 눈도 깜짝 안한다

I found this aphorism in my book of Korean aphorisms.

눈도     깜짝       안한다  kkam.jjak an.han.da
eye-TOO blink     NOT-do-PRES
The eyes don't even blink.

This means a person doesn’t blink in the face of danger or surprise. Actually, the English expression is identical: “He didn’t even blink.”

My friend Seungbae, on reading some of this here blog, sent me an expression to include in my Korean expressions (which I’ve been doing weekly), but I didn’t include it this week because it’s been a bit hard for me to figure out. I need to do some more research. It’s not really an aphorism, more like a contemporary slang expression. Maybe next week.


Caveat: 하나를 보면 열을 안다

I found this aphorism in my book of Korean aphorisms.

하나를       보면      열을      안다 bo.myeon yeol.eul an.da
one-OBJ    see-IF   ten-OBJ  know-PRES
If [you] see one, you know ten.

This means that if you see one of a person’s actions, you can know the next ten, too. A person’s inclinations are shown in a single deed. This is correlated with English’s “A leopard cannot change its spots.”


Caveat: 공든 탑이 무너지랴

I found this aphorism in my book of Korean aphorisms.

공든               탑이        무너지랴
gong.deun         tap.i      mu.neo.ji.rya
be-effortful-PART tower-SUBJ crumble-RHET-INTERROG
[Can] a well-built tower crumble?

This means that if you put your sincerest effort into a project, it will have enduring value. A person’s hard work is never wasted. It’s pretty anodyne, I guess. This features another occurrence of the “rhetorical interrogative” I reported on a few weeks back. It’s a cool syntactic construction.


Caveat: 가을이 지나지 않고 봄이오랴

I found this aphorism in my book of Korean aphorisms.

가을이        지나지 않고       봄이오랴
ga.eul.i anh.go bom.i.o.rya
autumn-subj pass-NEG-CONJ   spring-SUBJ-come-RHET-INTERROG
[Can] Spring come if Autumn does not pass?

This means all things should be done in their right place and in the right order. For example, to translate this first I had to figure out what that weird ending is. It’s a “rhetorical interrogative” – a special ending just for rhetorical questions! What every language needs, eh?


Caveat: 바람이 불어야 배가 가지

I found this aphorism in my book of Korean aphorisms.

바람이     불어야        배가       가지
ba.ram.i  bul.eo.ya    ga.ji
wind-SUBJ blow-PREREQ boat-SUBJ go-CONCESS
Only when the wind blows does the boat go.

This means that one can succeed only if there first exists opportunity. I like that verb ending, -어야 – it wraps a lot of meaning in a short ending: “Only in the event that X happens…”


Caveat: 모래 위에 물 쏟는격

I found this aphorism in my book of Korean aphorisms.

모래    위에     물     쏟는      격
mo.rae wi.e    mul   ssot.neun gyeok
sand   top-LOC water pour-GER  case
[It's a] case of pouring water on sand.

This means to waste energy on something pointless. Running on a treadmill. Life.

I was trying to do an aphorism every week. I’d been doing them on Sundays, but I missed yesterday. I guess I spent too much time pouring water on sand. So I posted this aphorism today, instead.


Caveat: 내 칼도 남의 칼집에 들면 찾기 어렵다

I found this aphorism in my book of Korean aphorisms.

내   칼도       남의              칼집에     들면        찾기      어렵다
nae    nam.ui           kal.jip.e deul.myeon  eo.ryeop.da
my  sword-TOO other-person-GEN sheath-IN fall-IF    find-INF hard-PRES
If my sword ends up in another's sheath, it's hard to find.

This has the same meaning as English’s “Possession is nine-tenths of the law.”


Caveat: 굶는 집

굶는 집

옥순이 아버지
옥순이 어머니
옥순이 동생
옥순이 둘째 동생
더 낳을 힘 없어 둘째가 막내인지
하루 이틀 꼬박 굶고
물배만 채워
서로 얼굴보고 앉았다
옥순이 둘째 동생
그 어린 것이 한 마리
소가 되어 짚도 풀도 먹고
고구마 덩쿨도 먹을 수만 있다면

– 고은 (한국시인 1933-)

A Starving House

This family of five
Ok-soon's father
Ok-soon's mother
Ok Soon-yi
Ok-soon's brother
Ok-soon's other brother
Lacking the strength to have more children,
  the third is the youngest
Just starve for a day or two
Just drink some water
This family of five
Sat face to face
Ok-soon's second brother
The little one
Could become a cow, eat straw and grass
If only one could eat the sweet potato vine

– Ko Un (Korean poet, b. 1933)

This is my own translation, with quite a bit of assistance from my grammar book and google translate and Naver’s online dictionary. I make no claim to professionalism or accuracy. But it is a quite simple poem, so I thought I’d give it a try.

Back to Top