Lunar New Year: 10 Traditional Korean Sayings to Learn From and Live By This Year

Lunar New Year: 10 Traditional Korean Sayings to Learn From and Live By This Year

As we welcome the Lunar New Year, we also welcome healthy transformation, whether it be your habits, your mindset, or your general lifestyle. The best way to start a new journey or keep up with an old one is motivation! We’ve gathered 10 common Korean proverbs just for that reason, to help provide clarity and serve as a constant reminder on your journey.

1. 원숭이도 나무에서 떨어질 때가 있다.

There are times when even a monkey falls from the tree.

Image from Google

This proverb is used to convey that it is totally okay to make mistakes every once in a while. If monkeys (known for their excellent climbing) even fall on occasion, then it’s not outrageous for us humans to fail or make mistakes as well. Rather than beating yourself up or dwelling on the issue, it’s better to embrace the mistake, recognize that no one is perfect, and move on!

2. 등잔 밑이 어둡다.

The bottom of the lamp is dark.

Image from Google 

Although a lamp is made to light up an area, have you ever noticed that the very bottom of it is dark? What this means is that it’s often difficult to see what’s right in front of your nose, in the most apparent of places! The purpose of this quote is to remind us of perspective and to always take a step back and pay attention to any details that you might have missed. Another meaning of this proverb could be to look right in front of you (at yourself and your own darkness) before finding fault in someone else’s darkness! 

3. 구르는 돌에는 이끼가 끼지 않는다.

A rolling stone gathers no moss.

Image from Google

If you’ve ever seen an untouched stone in the middle of nature or seen a neglected stone wall, then you’ll have probably noticed the moss growing on it, often causing discoloration and damage to the stone. This proverb notes that a rolling, moving stone gathers no moss. Like the image above, rolling stones are smooth and beautiful, having incurred no damage or discoloration at all. This proverb is telling you to keep working hard and staying dedicated. As long as you keep moving (whether it be forward, backward, or sideways), you’ll be spared of the inevitable, growing moss on inert stone. 

4. 선무당이 사람 잡는다.

An inexperienced shaman causes people pain. 

Image from Google

If you didn’t know, shamanism (or Korean folk religion) was and still is quite prominent in Korea. Typically women, shamans are vessels who bridge the human world with the spiritual world by allowing spirits, ancestors, and gods to inhabit their bodies. People have sought out shamans for centuries to consult with them on a variety of issues from buying a new house to facing really unfortunate circumstances. Imagine the weight of a shaman’s words. Thus, an inexperienced shaman could wreak havoc on people’s lives. This proverb is to warn people of ignorance, especially since an act of ignorance can be destructive. A good Greek parallel to this is the Socratic phrase: “I know that I know nothing.” Purposeful ignorance is dangerous everyone!  

5. 고기는 씹어야 맛이요, 말은 해야 맛이다.

Meat is tastiest when chewed, and words are tastiest when spoken.

Image from Google

For you meat lovers out there, you’ll all relate with this one. Just as meat is best and tastiest when chewed (rather than just lying on the dish untouched), words are also meant to be spoken. This proverb is telling us not to hesitate to speak up. Especially considering the pandemic, it’s important to remind ourselves to let things out rather than keeping them in. This proverb is also playfully telling us to tell more stories. If you’ve got stories, don’t keep those juicy accounts all to yourself 😉

6. 금강산도 식후경이다

Eat first and then go see Mount Geumgang.

GIF from Google

Mount Geumgang is a mountain in North Korea, known by all Koreans for its astounding beauty. The sights are so wondrous that anyone would be overexcited and immediately rush to the site. This proverb is used to convey that even sightseeing this picturesque mountain is not as important as eating. Will one even be able to appreciate the splendor on an empty stomach? This proverb is ultimately advising us to take care of ourselves and our bodies first and foremost!!!

7. 우는아이 떡하나 더 준다.

A crying baby gets one more rice cake (dduk).

GIF from Google

Exactly like ‘the squeaky wheel gets the grease,’ this proverb indicates that you have to visibly show your emotions for there to be any reaction or consolation. So don’t keep those emotions in, let them out once in a while! Only then are people able to reach out and know how you’re feeling. On the other hand, it also has the meaning: you have to really want it and show that you really want it for reward! A closed mouth will never be fed, but one that is putting in the work to be noticed definitely will. In the name of Rihanna, you gotta put in the “work, work, work, work, work.”

8. 가지 많은 나무 바람 잘 날 없다.

When there’s a tree with a lot of branches, there is not a single day it’s not windy.

GIF from Google

Imagine a bare tree with a lot of branches—like a lot—and all of those little branches are close to one another. Even with the faintest bit of wind, imagine the jingling and pushing of all the branches against each other, shaking and rattling all over. On one hand, this proverb shows the life of a family with many kids. Rattling and chafing at each other are unavoidable and inevitable. On the other hand (and completely unrelated to family), it preaches minimalism. The more ‘more’ there is, the more inevitable it is for those things to simply rattle and make noise, causing unnecessary commotion. There’s freedom in letting go. Maybe it’s this Lunar New Year to try!

9. 콩 심은데 콩나고, 팥 심은데 팥난다. 

Beans come out from where beans are planted, and red beans come out from where red beans are planted. 

Image from Google

This one might sound obvious, and it is! Quite literally, whatever seed you plant grows to be just that plant you seeded. It’s just like the phrase: “You reap what you sow” or “You are what you eat.” This proverb conveys that we need to be careful with our actions, our thoughts, and our intentions. For, ultimately, those all affect the outcome. Taken another way, it also tells us that we can judge someone based on their surroundings. Whether it’s the state of a home or the friends one surrounds themselves with, they are all telling of the person who chose to be in that particular state or with those particular friends. 

10. 말 한마디에 천 냥 빚도 갚는다.

Words can pay off millions worth of debt. 

Image from Google

Situation: You’re in massive debt. Let’s say millions of dollars worth of debt to a specific person. You’re told to pay this debt by a specific date. The date’s been reached and you’re dragged to your creditor and are demanded to pay. However, you speak really, really well, and so sincerely that it’s moving. Because your words were just so nice, the creditor decides to let you go. What an incredible situation, no? This proverb is to convey just how amazing and powerful words are. To the point that they could even move a person’s heart to do great things. So, not only is it important to always have positive intentions and honestly express your feelings, but it’s also important to package those well, since they are the most outward signs of expression. Equally, words are so important that they can also be destructive, so it’s always important to be cautious and always aware of your words and its sheer weight!

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