Category Archives: Hanja

고장난명: You cannot clap with only one hand

This four character hanja expression I came across in an episode of 별에서 온 그대 when the two leads come back from an overnight trip only to get caught in the hallway with their weekend bags by her mother and his ‘father’ – who in turn start arguing about which one of them has failed as a parent.

When the female lead readily agrees to having been the wily one of the two, he “shares responsibility” by saying this four character expression. I cannot imagine ever seeing such a scene in a Scandinavian series, but it certainly had entertainment value.

Before digressing further, let’s get to the 사자성어:

고장난명 (孤掌難鳴): You cannot clap with only one hand.
고: 외로울 고 – solitary
장: 손바닥 장 – palm
난: 어려울 란(난) -difficult
명: 울 명 – make sound

In English it would be closer to “it takes two to tango”.

Hanja: 화약 gunpowder – a surprising word with 약 藥 

The other day I came across a word containing the hanja 藥 which surprised me a lot. Usually I think of things related to medicine (e.g. 약학 藥學 pharmacology) when I see this one so I was a bit surprised by 화약 (火藥) which means gunpowder.

The way I can wrap my head around it is that medicine is based on chemical compounds and gunpowder helps “create fire” from a chemical reaction.

Maybe it’s a fairly logical word after all?

Hanja: If you want fish, look for them in water…

I was looking for one specific four character hanja expression (as you do…) when I came across these two:

상산구어 (上山求魚): Seeking a fish on a mountain.
Related: 연목구어 (緣木求魚) : Seeking a fish from a tree

They are pretty self-explanatory: someone is attempting to do the impossible.

Odd as it sounds, I have really come to appreciate four character expressions although it will take a loooong time before I will be able to use them naturally. Just had to share these two 😉

Hanja: 冷 cold

Without spoiling too much, I can reveal that at some point in 기황후 the empress is sent to the “ice palace” as a punishment. Not surprisingly it’s a dreadful place where even the cobwebs that decorate the walls are more or less frozen. They call this palace 냉궁 (冷宮) – literally frozen palace. For some reason this word stuck with me. Or rather the 냉- part.

: This is the same 냉 that you find in 냉면 (iced noodles), 냉장고 (refrigerator), and 냉동식품 (frozen food). 

Leave it to me to immediately think of food related words 😀

Using Korean for Japanese writing

Today was the first time in a long time that I felt that my Japanese just worked out the way it should in class. Not that I used to be really bad or I overnight transformed into a Japanese chatterbox, but today things just lined up really nicely. We’re a small class of just 5 people, our teacher is a native speaker of Japanese, and we are finally reaching the point where our vocabulary allows us to make more interesting sentences. Our class dynamics are great so it’s a lot of fun, but super efficient at the same time. However, I have to say that Korean helps me a lot in Japanese.

For some of the words I’m supposed to write in kanji and I know the Korean equivalent, I tend to think first in Japanese, translate to Korean, and then write in Kanji. I know it sounds odd, but thinking about it, I think it’s because there is no direct correlation between the number of syllables you say in Japanese and the number of kanji you write while there is such a correlation between 한글 and hanja. An example:
The word birthday: The Japanese word written out in hiragana is たんじようび which looks awfully long, but in Korean the word would be 생일 and I know those two characters: 生日. It’s a bit of a roundabout way of thinking, but for some words it just makes so much more sense this way. At least for the words I have come across at this point in my learning process.

For others I don’t do it – such as 行きます (polite present tense of the verb to go) since I never used 行 in Korean. The same goes for あした / 明日 (내일) where I rely on what is basically children’s logic (first we have to finish the day of today then the moon has to shine while we wait for tomorrow, and then tomorrow is the big day).

The brain is a funny, funny thing… Happy studies everyone! 🙂

Family bonds and 정 (情)

Yesterday I went for a picnic with two girls (of which one was Korean) before meeting my LP.

It was an afternoon dedicated to 여자들의 수다, 김밥, and white wine sitting in the shade of a big tree in the park behind uni. However, I also learned about the meaning of “정”.

My Korean friend had experienced in several cities that some local people of older generations would tentatively ask her where she is from. Once they had confirmed that she is in fact Korean, they proceed to tell her that their adopted son/daughter was also born in Korea, show pictures, and in some cases also share stories about how they were planning to go to Korea with their children to see their birth country with them.

She found these encounters very touching, which led to the introduction of the word “정”.

This is just one of several hanja that are associated with the same pronunciation.
Hanja: 情
Meaning: 뜻
Pronunciation: 정

It can be translated into a feeling of intimacy between people, and in this case it can be used to describe two kinds of parental affection:

기른 정: the emotional bond that is formed between an adult and a child being raised by the adult in question. This is a parent-child relationship that is not necessarily blood related. 기르다: to raise, to bring up.

낳은 정: the bond between a parent and a child related to the parents by birth. 낳다: to give birth to.

Transferring the logic of Korean to other languages

My previous language partner was very keen on learning Danish, and he actually became really good in quite a short time! Good grammatical understanding, good vocabulary, and a brain soaking up Danish like a sponge in water. Working with hanja, I suddenly remembered when he transferred the logic of hanja to his Danish studies. We were going over a short story for his Danish class and some of the vocabulary he had wondered about.

First we discussed the word “over” which can both be a preposition (above) and used in combination with other words in the meaning of “a lot” or “too much”.

Larer we came across “rask” which means “recovered”.

Lastly we looked at the word “overrasket” and he naturally assumed that this would mean “fully recovered”, which made sense given the two words he had just learned and since the story was about a guy ending up in hospital after an accident. Oh, if only Danish were always that logical! It means “surprised” and it is not even considered a combination of the two words, but a single entity that is completely separate from the two individual words of “over” and “rask”.

Since then I have thought of “fully recovered” whenever seeing the word “overrasket”.

However, it’s also a good reminder for me that although a Koran syllable might sound like it stems from a hanja character that I know, it might not be related to it at all…

Word of the day: 마비 – paralysis

We came to talk about this word while looking at the hanja for “wind” 風 (meaning 바람, pronunciation 풍) since this particular 풍 also carries the meaning of “paralysis”. The two don’t really seem related, so I found it a bit strange. That led to a discussion of paralysis as a symptom vs. a diagnosis in itself. 풍병 is therefore a disease in itself whereas 마비 is a symptom.

However, 마비 (Mabi) is also the name of a Swedish car rental company. I’m not sure that name would make for a great success in Korea 😀

Studying hanja

I’m slowly wrapping up the third chapter in Useful Chinese Characters for Learners of Korean.

Learning hanja is a time consuming process. First you look at a character and you might think “oh sh*t” (e.g. 萬 meaning: 일만, pronunciation: 만), then you go over it stroke for stroke and suddenly it doesn’t look as scary. If I can associate the character with some mental image I find that it’s easier for me to remember it. Just memorising stroke order works for some chacters, but it takes me longer to retain them. Mostly I cannot retain more than just a few characters per day.

I was revising hanja with one of my language partners this week, and whenever I had inevitably forgotten one, he would try to make me think of an image. E.g. 수 for 수요일 which has caused me some trouble. He told me to think of “ice”. At first I didn’t catch on.

水 meaning: 물, pronunciation: 수

It looks a bit like a snowflake, right?
By adding one stroke, you get “ice” which is of course just frozen water:

氷 meaning: 얼음, pronunciation: 빙

Now it looks a lot more like a snowflake, right?

As for the character 불, 화 (fire) in 화요일 I think of a person 人 running with arms in the air to escape the flames 火. It might be a bit childish, but it works for me.

It makes sense if you know that 人 is person, and once you put the person inside a box, you have the preposition “inside” 內 !

The concept of “radicals” is still difficult for me, but I guess it will come gradually as I work more with it and learn more and more characters.

Hanja: 작을, 소 & 적을, 소

While studying hanja, I came across the following two:

小 meaning: 작을 pronunciation: 소

少 meaning: 적을 pronunciation: 소

Notice how similar they are! So cruel that they even have the same pronunciation.
At first I didn’t even notice. The sample word that made me realise it was the word 소년 (boy).

It was written 소년 in 한글 and 少年 in hanja, which I first misread as “small year” since I learned 小 before 少 and therefore automatically associated the sound of 소 with 小. I thought it was such a weird way to phrase it since the years themselves will not ‘get bigger’ as someone ages, rather it’s the number of them that increases. Only then I realised that it was of course “few years” which makes somewhat more sense since a child is of course “a few years old”.

I don’t know if this is the official explanation of the characters, but at least now I can remember the difference easily.

For those who wonder what a young girl is called, it’s 소녀 (少女)