Idioms are fun, but they can lead to misinterpretation when the actual meaning is completely different from the words themselves. For example, “발이 넓다 (literally, feet are wide)” as an idiom doesn’t have anything to do with foot size; in Korean, it actually means, “well-connected and sociable”.
Now let’s look at eight common idioms using body parts. We’ll translate them and get the hang of each proper translation.
1. 눈에 넣어도 안 아프다
- Pronunciation: [nune neoeodo an apeuda]
- Literal meaning: It doesn’t hurt even if I put him/her into my eyes.
- Translation: He/she is the apple of my eye.
It’s used to describe someone precious, such as one’s own offspring. The phrase implies a willingness to endure the pain because he or she is precious.
제게 너무 소중해요. 눈에 넣어도 안 아파요.
[jege neomu sojungheyo nune neoeodo an apayo]
She is so precious to me. She’s the apple of my eye.
|너무 [neomu]||so, too||소중하다 [sojunghada]||precious, valuable|
|눈 [nun]||eye||넣다 [neota]||to put in|
|안 [an]||not||아프다 [apeuda]||to hurt|
2. 눈이 높다
- Pronunciation: [nuni nopda]
- Literal meaning: Eyes are high.
- Translation: very picky in choosing something/ one’s standard is high
- Antonym: 눈이 낮다 [nuni natda]
It can be used in any situations where decision making is involved. The opposite expression is 눈이 낮다 [nuni natda], which means ‘not picky/ one’s standard is low’.
제 친구는 눈이 높아서 남자친구를 사귄 적이 없어요.
[je chinguneun nuni nopaseo namjachingureul saguin jeogi eopseoyo]
My friend is too picky that she has never had a boyfriend.
|낮다 [natda]||low||제 [je]||my|
|친구 [chingu]||friend||눈 [nun]||eye|
|높다 [nopda]||high||남자친구 [namjachingu]||boyfriend|
|사귀다 [saguida]||to date, to go out with|
3. 눈앞이 캄캄하다
- Pronunciation: [nunapi kamkamhada]
- Literal meaning: It is dark in front of eyes.
- Translation: to not know where to start, to have no hope
Here, 눈앞 (before one’s eyes) implies the immediate future.
눈앞이 캄캄했는데 와이프가 도와줬어요.
[nunapi kamkamhetneunde waipeuga dowajweosseoyo]
I was in panic because I didn’t know how to solve the problem, but my wife helped me.
|눈 [nun]||eye||앞 [ap]||front|
|캄캄하다 [kamkamhada]||dark||와이프 [waipeu]||wife|
|도와주다 [dowajuda]||to help|
4. 귀가 얇다
- Pronunciation: [guiga yalda]
- Literal meaning: Ears are thin.
- Translation: to be easily influenced or swayed by what others say
This phrase implies that one’s ears are so thin that they easily let words in.
백화점에서 이 구두를 샀어요. 직원이 더 날씬해 보인다고 해서요. 저는 귀가 너무 얇아요.
[bekhwajeomeseo i gudureul sasseoyo jigweoni deo nalssinhe boindago heseoyo jeoneun guiga neomu yalbayo]
I bought these dress shoes at the department store. The store clerk told me that they made me look slimmer. I easily get swayed by what others say.
|백화점 [bekhwajeom]||department store||구두 [gudu]||dress shoes|
|사다 [sada]||to buy||직원 [jigweon]||clerk|
|날씬하다 [nalssinhada]||slim||귀 [gui]||ear|
5. 입이 무겁다
- Pronunciation: [ibi mugeopda]
- Literal meaning: Mouth/lips are heavy
- Translation: tight-lipped, keeping secrets closely
- Antonym: 입이 가볍다 [ibi gabyeopda]
입이 무거운 사람 [ibi mugeoun saram] is a person keeping secrets well. A person blabbing secrets, on the other hand, is 입이 가벼운 사람 [ibi gabyeoun saram].
걱정하지 마세요. 입이 무거운 사람이에요.
[geokjeonghaji maseyo ibi mugeoun saramieyo]
Don’t worry about him. He is very tight-lipped.
|가볍다 [gabyeopda]||light||걱정하다 [geokjeonghada]||to worry|
|입 [ip]||mouth||무겁다 [mugeopda]||heavy|
6. 어깨가 무겁다
- Pronunciation: [eoggega mugeopda]
- Literal meaning: Shoulders are heavy.
- Translation: taking on new responsibility, feeling a burden placed on one’s shoulders
- Antonym: 어깨가 가볍다 [eoggega gabyeopda]
Imagine something heavy on a person’s shoulders. On the contrary, when a burden is set down, Koreans say 어깨가 가볍다 [eoggega gabyeopda].
해야 할 일이 너무 많네요. 어깨가 무거워요.
[heya hal iri neomu manneyo eoggega mugeoweoyo]
I’ve got so many things to do. I feel burdened.
|가볍다 [gabyeopda]||light||하다 [hada]||to do|
|일 [il]||task, work||너무 [neomu]||so, too|
|많다 [manta]||many, much||어깨 [eogge]||shoulder|
7. 손이 크다
- Pronunciation: [soni keuda]
- Literal meaning: Hands are big.
- Translation: over-preparing something for an occasion
- Antonym: 손이 작다 [soni jakda]
We can call generous, big spenders 손이 큰 사람 [soni keun saram]. But a person preparing less than what is needed is 손이 작은 사람 [soni jageun saram].
제 남편은 손이 커서 물건을 항상 많이 사요.
[je nampyeoneun soni keoseo mulgeoneul hangsang mani sayo]
My husband is a big spender that he always buys so much stuff.
|작다 [jakda]||small||제 [je]||my|
|남편 [nampyeon]||husband||손 [son]||hand|
|크다 [keuda]||big||물건 [mulgeon]||stuff, thing|
|항상 [hangsang]||always||사다 [sada]||to buy|
8. 발이 넓다
- Pronunciation: [bari neolda]
- Literal meaning: Feet are wide.
- Translation: to know a lot of people, to have many acquaintances, to have a lot of connections
We can call well-connected, sociable people 발이 넓은 사람 [bari neolbeun saram].
제 동료가 발이 넓어요. 제가 물어볼게요.
[je dongryoga bari neolbeoyo jega mureobolgeyo]
My colleague has a lot of connection. I’ll ask him.
|제 [je]||my||동료 [dongryo]||colleague, coworker|
|발 [bal]||foot||넓다 [neolda]||wide|
|물어보다 [mureoboda]||to ask|
- Kim, Jung-sup et al. Easy Talk In Korean. Hollym International Corporation, 2014.
- “The Korea Times – Culture”. Koreatimes.Co.Kr, 2018, http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/section_135.html. Accessed 4 July 2018.