Category Archives: Proverbs

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”.

Proverb: 중이 제 머리 못 깎는다

중이 제 머리 못 깎는다 ~ the monk cannot shave his own head

Meaning: you might know the solution to a given problem but not be able to apply it if it’s your own problem. Think of a therapist who helps others sort out their lives while his/her own life is in shambles.