Saturday, March 23, 2013

꽃샘추위 - The Winter is Jealous of Flowers, and Other Korean Expressions

This past week in Korea has been characterized by a sudden drop in temperature and an unwelcome haze over every city courtesy of China's Yellow Dust. And I was beginning to think that spring was on its way; the cherry blossoms are actually beginning to bloom all around Changwon.

In fact, this kind of early-spring cold snap is very familiar to Koreans, who have come up with a very poetic expression to identify the phenomenon: 꽃샘추위. Let's break this down:

꽃 (ggot) means "flower".
샘 (saem) means "jealousy". It's also how you pronounce the name "Sam" in Korean.
추위 (sounds like "chewy") means "extreme cold".

So, 꽃샘추위 describes the yearly late-March cold snap as the bitter vengeance of a dying Winter who is jealous of the coming flowers of spring. Perhaps she does not like colorful flowers, baby birds, and allergies. Perhaps she is just incredibly spiteful. Either way, she's holding out as long as she can before spring (봄/pom) finally arrives.

I learned this expression from my host parents but asked my co-teachers at school to explain it. They did, and then wondered if there's any sort of English equivalent. I don't think there is... Actually, my co-teachers have been asking me for a lot of American English idioms recently, mostly because they've realized that they use a lot of Korean idioms and want to express these interesting ideas in English when they speak with me. I'm not quite as well-versed in colorful English expressions as my friend Adam Gann ("Carter's little liver pills", anyone?), but I'm trying to keep up. It's more difficult than I imagined to come up with idioms that fit a specific circumstance!

On the other hand, I've learned many great expressions from my co-teachers, and here are a few of them:

반짝반짝하다 (banjjak banjjak hada): This is an ideophone (kind of like onomatopoeia, but not for sounds) that describes objects that shine, sparkle, and glitter. Pretty things that are 반짝반짝 but not necessarily physically light-reflecting are said to be cleansing to the eyes (I think this is a separate expression, but I can't remember it).

째려보다 (jjaeryeoboda): To look at someone with scorn or anger.

눈 흘기다 (noon heulgida): Either to look at someone reproachfully or to give someone the side eye. I love this one. I also love side eyes. I now present three Gifs of the Side Eye:
Lucille Bluth is judging you.
Oprah Winfrey does not believe you.
Zachary Quinto can't even.
불똥이 튀기다 (bul ddongi twigida): This idiom describes the situation when one event "sparks" (불똥이) a bad consequence or reaction from something else. This can apply to someone "caught in the crossfire" between two friends fighting, but it could also apply to someone who's been left cleaning up another's mess.

꾸어다 놓은 보릿자루 (gguwoda noheun bolitjalu): I described this one in a previous post, and it means a person who feels out of place, like a fish out of water or a "cat in a strange garret" (that one I'd never heard before, but it's what the dictionary gave me...). They would feel or look like a random bag of barley sitting in a corner that someone else mistook for an actual person. Awkward.

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