Many Korean words have both a literal and metaphorical meaning, simultaneously. Metaphors help to express our understanding of the world. They add a vivid image and emotion to a sentence.
Have a look at common Korean metaphorical phrases, and think about how they relate to the literal meanings. You should find some such examples used in English with same meaning.
⓵ 선을 넘다 [seoneul neomda]
to cross the line
Like its English meaning, this describes something or someone that exceeds unseen limits or boundaries. Overall, it implies actions that result in unfavorable situations.
장난이 선을 넘었어요.
[jangnani seoneul neomeosseoyo]
- Literal meaning: The prank crossed the line.
- Translation: The prank crossed the line.
|선 [seon]||line||을 [eul]||(consonant +) object marker|
|넘다 [neomda]||to cross, go over||장난 [jangnan]||prank|
|이 [i]||(consonant +) subject marker|
⓶ 담을 쌓다 [dameul ssata]
to build a wall
담 [dam] is an outside wall surrounding a building which divides other buildings or road. The literal meaning of 담을 쌓다 [dameul ssata] is to build a wall or fence. In most cases, you’ll find it translated into “to shut oneself off from certain things.” The phrase can be used when someone doesn’t want to engage in an activity.
운동과 담을 쌓았던 걸 후회해요.
[undong-gwa dameul ssa-atdeon geol huhweheyo]
- Literal meaning: I regret building a wall between exercise and me.
- Translation: I regret not working out.
|담 [dam]||wall, fence||을 [eul]||(consonant +) object marker|
|쌓다 [ssata]||to build, stack up||운동 [undong]||exercise, workout|
|후회하다 [huhwehada]||to regret|
⓷ 산으로 가다 [saneuro gada]
to go to a mountain
산으로 가다 [saneuro gada] comes from a Korean proverb 사공이 많으면 배가 산으로 간다 [sagong-i maneumyeon bega saneuro ganda], which literally means “Where there are too many boatmen, the boat goes to the mountain.” A similar expression in English could be “Too many cooks spoil the broth.”
Coming from the proverb, 산으로 가다 means that a desired outcome doesn’t come to fruition; rather, it ended up somewhere or somehow totally different from the original goal. This phrase holds a negative connotation – the unintended outcome is one that is considered unpleasant.
우리 대화가 산으로 가고 있는 것 같아요.
[uri dehwaga saneuro gago inneun geot gatayo]
- Literal meaning: I feel like our conversation is going to a mountain.
- Translation: I feel like our conversation is derailing.
|산 [san]||mountain||으로 [euro]||to, toward|
|가다 [gada]||to go||우리 [uri]||we|
|대화 [dehwa]||conversation||가 [ga]||(vowel +) subject marker|
⓸ 금수저 [geumsujeo]
Being a golden spoon is similar to the English expression “being born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth”. In Korean, the golden spoon is commonly used instead of the silver spoon.
그 사람 금수저예요.
[geu saram geumsujeoyeyo]
- Literal meaning: He (or she) is a golden spoon.
- Translation: He (or she) was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.
|금 [geum]||gold||수저 [sujeo]||spoon and chopsticks|
|그 [geu]||the||사람 [saram]||person|
- Calper.la.psu.edu. http://calper.la.psu.edu/sites/default/files/pubfiles/CALPER_Metaphors_Korean_StudentUnit_0.pdf. Published 2018. Accessed October 13, 2018.
- Humans of Seoul. Humansofseoul.com. http://humansofseoul.com/. Published 2018. Accessed October 13, 2018.
- Learning Korean with Humans of Seoul. Facebook.com. https://www.facebook.com/koreanwithhos/. Published 2018. Accessed October 13, 2018.