Korean Proverbs

I spent most of my childhood hearing Korean proverbs from my grandparents and my parents, but I rarely paid much attention to them. I understood and knew many of them, but they were not something I actively thought of. The only time I actively paid attention to them was during one winter break while I was going to elementary school. Our homework was to collect at least fifty Korean proverbs and learn their meaning. Obviously as an elementary student, I promptly forgot most of the proverbs I collected after the assignment was over. Strangely, these proverbs have been appearing in my head more and more often of late. I am not sure why, but as I was describing them to my husband in English, I thought perhaps others might enjoy the wisdom of these Korean proverbs.

I mention three here to begin with, just to wet your appetite.

  • 수박 겉 핥기: In literal translation, this means “licking watermelon surface”. The older generation usually say this to the younger generation when they are doing something with no depth. Essentially, if you are reading headlines of news without really delving in to what’s going on, you have done this. It is telling you to put more effort in as your understanding is shallow.
  • 도토리 키재기: In literal translation, this means “measuring height of acorns”. Usually people say this when you are trying to make distinction in things that really make no difference. This is often said when people are arguing about something that really makes no difference.
  • 그림의 떡: In literal translation, this means “rice cake (Korean kind) in a picture”. This is said when you have something you can see and perhaps even touch, but you can’t really have it. Essentially envision that you really want that bar of chocolate, but if you can’t have it than it becomes just a thing in a picture.