Saturday, 15 August 2015

Old Korean Pronunciation

Anyone interested in how Korean was pronounced roughly 800 years ago should look into the 계림유사 (gyerimyusa/ kyerimyusa), as it is constantly referenced in books on Korean etymology and phonology. The format of the book is such that roughly 350 Goryeo (ancient Korean) words are written out phonetically using Chinese characters. 

The original meaning of words are shown with Chinese characters which are then followed by their pronunciation. The 曰 in the middle (not to be confused with 日) means "spoken / pronounced as." Here is an example of an entry from the book: 鬼曰幾心. This is read as: "Ghost (鬼) is pronounced as 幾心 (기신, kishim)," which is basically identical to the modern pronunciation 귀신. Naturally, there are also cases where the pronunciation indicated is no longer in use, as in 山曰每, where the word for mountain (山) is the archaic "뫼 (written as "매" with 每)." 

While basic reading knowledge of Chinese characters will help, you can just as easily copy and paste or draw the characters into a Korean Hanja dictionary to see the approximate pronunciations. 

The following blog lists all of the words and pronunciations with Hanja only:

For those who would like a version with modern Korean meanings and pronunciations, google "계림유사 txt" and it should be one of the first search results as a downloadable Word file.

Here is a Hanja dictionary for those who would like to look up the pronunciations of the Chinese characters:

Sunday, 9 August 2015

땅거미 - Twilight Spiders?

I have to admit that the word 땅거미 confused me for the longest time. I could never wrap my head around what exactly "거미" (spider) has to do with "twilight." It turns out that there is a very simple explanation for the etymology of this word which will make it much easier to remember if, like me, you have been having a hard time connecting "spiders" and "twilight."

땅거미 can be broken into two parts: 땅 + 거미. 땅 means "earth, land," and while 거미 is spelt in exactly the same way as the word for "spider," it is in fact analyzed as follows: 검(다) + 이 (noun suffix), where 검다 means "black, dark." The word 땅거미 refers to the time of day when the sun goes down and the land grows dark, hence the meaning "twilight."

백문식. 우리말 어원 사전. 1st ed. 서울: 도서출판 박이정, 2014. Print.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

영어와 한국어의 숨겨진 관계

(한국 분들을 위해 어제 올린 글에 대한 한국어 번역본도 함께 올립니다)
서로 다른 언어들에서 같은 의미를 가진 말은 늘 같은 어근이나 의미에서 파생되는 것이 아니다. 하지만 어근이나 본래 의미가 같으면 다양한 문화와 생활방식이 있음에도 불구하고 넓은 세상에 뿔뿔이 흩어져 사는 사람들도 고대 시대에 살았던 우리 조상들도 모두 보편적인 공통점이 있었다. 결국 세상은, 보는 시각이 비슷하기 때문에 오해하고 있던 관점의 격차를 줄이게 된다면 우리들 간의 거리를 줄이는 것과도 같다.

위의 현상을 보여주는 예로 "그리-"로 시작하는 한국어 단어들과 "-graphy"를 포함한 영어 단어들이 있다. 이 두 단어와 그들의 파생어들은 "긁다, 할퀴다, 새기다"라는 개념과 "쓰다, 그리다"라는 개념의 관계에 바탕을 둔다

한국어에는 ", 그림, 긁다, 긋다, 그리다"와 같은 단어들이 모두 "그리-"라는 공통적인 어원을 가지고 있다. 이 어원은 "긁다, 할퀴다"라는 행동을 묘사하는 것이며 "그리다, 새기다, 긋다""쓰다, "이라는 다양한 의미들이 포함된다
영어로는 "-graph (그래프)"라는 어근이 들어간 단어들은 역시 "새기다, 긁다, 쓰다, 그리다" 등의 의미를 가진 고대 그리스어의 "grapho (γράφω '그라포')"라는 동사에서 파생된 것이다. 다음 단어들은 이 어근이 얼마나 광범위하고 유용하게 쓰이고 있는지를 잘 보여준다 : "calligraphy (서예), graffiti (낙서), graphite (흑연), graph (그래프), diagram (도표), bibliography (참고문헌), photograph (사진), stenography (속기법), phonograph (축음기)" 와 같은 영어와 한국어 단어들이 모두 긁는 소리를 나타내는 "g + r/l (+ )"이라는 의성어에서 형성되었다는 점에 유의하시길 바란다.

참고로 다른 언어에도 긁거나 할퀸다는 소리를 나타내는 "g + r/l" 의성어 현상의 예는 다음과 같다.
힌디어: khurachnaa (खुरचना '긁다, 할퀴다')
일본어: (카쿠) "쓰다" + (카쿠) "긁다." 일본어의 발음 및 음운 체계상 r/l이 빠졌다.
프랑스어: gratter "긁다, 할퀴다
독일어: kratzen "긁다, 할퀴다

오늘의 포스팅을 읽고 서로 달리 보였던 언어들에서 공통점을 발견하는 것에 조금이라도 관심이 생겼으면 한다. 개인적으로 언어들 간에 공통점을 발견하는 것이 어원학의 가장 흥미로운 부분이라고 생각한다. 또한 여러 나라 독자들에게 이를 소개하는 것은 보람찬 일이다

한국어 어원 출처 :
백문식. 우리말 어원 사전. 1st ed. 서울: 도서출판 박이정, 2014. Print.
영어 어원에 대한 추가 정보:

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Connections between English and Korean

Two words which mean the same thing in two different languages are not always derived from the same fundamental root or meaning. When they are, it can be a wonderful reminder that humans, regardless of time or place, share so much in common and have very similar ways of looking at things, in spite of all the apparent differences between us.
Two types of words which illustrate this are Korean words based on 그리- and English ones based on "-graphy." Both words and their derivatives are based on a connection between "scratching, engraving" and "writing, drawing." 

In Korean, words such as , 그림, 긁다, 긋다 and 그리다 are all based on the common element of "그리-." This refers to the action of "scratching, scraping (긁다)" and encompasses the meanings "drawing, inscribing (그림, 그리다, 긋다)" and "writing, text ()."
In English, words with "-graph(y)" in them come from the Greek verb "grapho (γράφω)," which also means "to inscribe, scratch, write or draw." The following examples illustrate a handful of the numerous applications of this meaning: "calligraphy, graffiti, graphite, graph, diagram, bibliography, photograph, stenography, phonograph." Note also how the root words in both languages start with "g + r/l (+ )," an onomatopoeic scraping or scratching sound.
Some additional examples of this are the Hindi word "khurachnaa (खुरचना 'to scrape, scratch')", with the aspirated 'kh' depicting this even more strongly, and the Japanese words "(to write)" and "(to scratch)," both pronounced "kaku," although lacking the final "r" due to the phonological structure of Japanese syllables. Similar examples can also be found in German and French among other languages.
I hope that today's post has stirred an interest in searching for common roots in words of radically different languages, which I personally find is one of the most exciting and rewarding parts of studying etymology. Happy word hunting!

Source for the information on the Korean words: 

백문식. 우리말 어원 사전. 1st ed. 서울: 도서출판 박이정, 2014. Print. 

For more information on English etymology: 

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Green or Blue?

This post is not so much about etymology as it is food for thought for anyone who has wondered about or been confused by which word to use for the colours blue and green in Korean.

During your Korean studies, you may have noticed that dictionaries indicate both blue and green for the word 푸르다. Interestingly enough, this phenomenon is not limited to Korean and appears to be quite common throughout languages in Asia, according to the polyglot and language expert Stuart Jay Raj.

The Korean word 푸르다 is related to the noun 풀 (meaning "grass" here), and the definition given in the Korean dictionary on Naver translates to: "A bright and clear colour like that of a clear autumn sky, the deep sea or grass" (맑은 가을 하늘이나 깊은 바다, 풀의 빛깔과 같이 밝고 선명하다). Basically, the meaning of the word is fluid and can in fact be used for both colours. 

While context will almost always make it clear which sense of the word is meant, some colour words which may be useful for being more specific are: 하늘색 ("sky blue"), 파란색 ("blue"), 초록색 (草綠色 "grass green") and 녹색 (綠色 "green"). While 파란색 generally refers specifically to blue, one can still find references to the "colour of sprouts or shoots (of plants)" as well as mention of the ambiguous "푸르다" in the Korean definition. 

This little investigation has likely raised more questions than it answered, but it is certainly an interesting topic to consider for anyone interested in the fluidity of colour-related concepts across various languages.

The Suffix -씨

The noun ending -씨 is found in several nouns and usually serves the same function of indicating "state, condition, appearance, manner." Three common words which will be looked at are: 날씨, 글씨 and 마음씨.

날씨 can be divided into the two parts 날 + 씨. "날" means "day," so combined with the ending -씨 the word means "the state or condition of the day." Hence the meaning of "weather."

글씨 is a combination of 글 ("writing") + 씨 ("state, condition, appearance"). The two parts in combination mean "the state or appearance of writing" and can be used to say that someone's handwriting is either good or bad, for example.

Finally, 마음씨 is simply 마음 ("mind, heart") + 씨. The word has a general sense of "the quality or manner of using one's heart or mind," in the sense of kindness (or lack thereof) in a person. This is close to the English sense in the translation of 마음씨가 좋다 as "kindhearted, good-hearted," as in "using one's mind or heart well."

백문식. 우리말 어원 사전. 1st ed. 서울: 도서출판 박이정, 2014. Print.

The Origin of 가을

가을 (fall, autumn) is an example of noun formation from a verb, albeit one which is no longer in use. The noun suffix -을 is quite common and will be seen in several other posts on this blog.

In this case, the noun 가을 comes from a now-defunct verb whose modern spelling would be 갓다. 갓다 means "to cut, slice" (cf. 긋다) and refers to fall as being the season during which crops are cut and harvested. Over time, the "ㅅ" in 갓-다 dropped when combined with the noun suffix -을, resulting in the word 가을 (갓+을 -> 가슬 -> 가을). 

백문식. 우리말 어원 사전. 1st ed. 서울: 도서출판 박이정, 2014. Print.

For the original spelling of 갓다, please visit the following link (may require a plug-in for old Korean):

괜찮다 and 귀찮다

While 괜찮다 and 귀찮다 may not be related in meaning, they both share the common ending -찮다 and have origins which are simple enough to explain that I have included both in one post.

As every learner of Korean quickly realizes, 괜찮다 is an extremely useful word which can be applied in a variety of situations. But where exactly does it come from? You may have intuitively guessed that it is the contraction of a negative ending, which is correct: -찮다 is simply a contraction of -치 (cf. "- 않다") + 않다 (않다 -> 아니하다 "to not be"). "괜" is a contracted form of the noun 관계 (關係) "relation, connection." Written out, the word's entire original form would be: "관계하지 아니하다," meaning "to not be concerned/ relevant/ matter." Hence the meaning "it is okay/ alright" (i.e. "it does not matter, it is of no concern").

Now that you know that -찮다 is a contraction of a negative verb ending, we can focus on the initial -귀 in 귀찮다. 귀 is from the Chinese character 貴 ("귀"), meaning "precious, valuable." Thus, the two parts 귀 + 찮다 together mean "not precious/ valuable." When something annoys you or is not worth your time and effort (a general sense of  "troublesome, tiresome"), it is "not valuable, important, precious."

As you can see, the origins of both words are remarkably simple and intuitive, and many learners will likely be able to guess them if they already know the related words "관계" and "귀하다."

백문식. 우리말 어원 사전. 1st ed. 서울: 도서출판 박이정, 2014. Print. 

Friday, 17 July 2015

만나다 and its origin

In several previous posts, I presented words which have undergone phonological changes and thereby conceal their origins. Likewise, 만나다 has a surprisingly logical and simple origin which, although hard to spot, you will likely not forget once you know.

The spelling makes it difficult to notice, but 만나다 is actually a combination of "맞다 ('to greet, receive, accept, welcome') + 나다 ('to happen, occur')." Thus, 만나다 literally means something along the lines of "the occurrence of a greeting or welcoming." When 맞 and 나다 are placed next to each other, the pronunciation changes to 만나다 for the sake of practicality. As with many phonological changes of this sort, it simply makes the word easier to pronounce.

As an interesting side note, the adverb "마주 ('facing, face to face')" was also formed from the verb 맞다. Likewise, 마중 (to meet someone who has come, usually in the sense of picking someone up at a train station or airport) and words ending in -맞이 all share this common origin of 맞- and are related to meeting or greeting.

백문식. 우리말 어원 사전. 1st ed. 서울: 도서출판 박이정, 2014. Print. 

맨날 or 만날?

It may come as a surprise even to many Koreans that, in spite of 맨날 being far more common in everyday speech, 만날 is actually the correct form of the word. Although as of 2011, 맨날 is now also included in dictionaries of standard Korean, so it appears that its exceedingly common (though erroneous) usage has earned it a permanent place in the language.

The origin of 만날 is actually a very straightforward combination of "만 (萬- ten thousand) + 날 (day)." When put together, the word literally means "ten thousand days" and, logically enough, is used to mean "every day" in Korean.

백문식. 우리말 어원 사전. 1st ed. 서울: 도서출판 박이정, 2014. Print. 

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

The difference between 감사하다 and 고맙다

Likely something that every learner of Korean has wondered at some time or another, today's post is an elucidation of the differences between 감사하다 and 고맙다.

When speaking purely of the way in which the two words are used, the difference can be summarized as follows: 감사하다 is generally used in more formal situation, while 고맙다 has a softer, more familiar sense. This does not imply that 고맙습니다 is rude or informal, to be sure. It simply does not sound quite as formal as 감사합니다.

From an etymological perspective, the two words differ fundamentally in that 감사하다 is based on Hanja (Chinese characters used in Korean) while 고맙다 is a purely Korean word. 감사하다 can be analyzed as 감사(感謝) + 하다, literally meaning "to feel (感) thanks (謝)." This final character 謝 (pronounced "사" in Korean and "xie4" in Chinese) is the same one used in the Chinese expression "xie xie (謝謝)," also meaning "thank you."

고맙다 can be analyzed as 곰 + 압다 (adjectival affix), where 곰 is the Korean word for bear. 곰/ 고마 (cf. Japanese "kuma" 熊) refers to a god or respect in general. The original sense of the word 고맙다 was "to receive god's blessing, to be respected," and the word assumed the meaning of "to be thankful" beginning in the 18th century. In ancient times, bears were seen as divinely powerful animals, as is evident from the legendary story of Dangun founding Korea, according to which Dangun's mother was originally a bear (熊女 lit. "bear woman") who was impregnated by Hwanung, the son of the sky god himself. Bearing all of these previous meanings in mind, the original meaning of "고맙습니다" appears to have been closer to "may a bear bless you" than "thank you."

백문식. 우리말 어원 사전. 1st ed. 서울: 도서출판 박이정, 2014. Print. 

For further reading about the Dangun legend:

On the difference in usage between 감사하다 and 고맙다:

Saturday, 4 July 2015

고지식하다 and its origin

고지식하다 is a great example of how sound changes can disguise a word's origin and make it harder to remember in spite of being composed of parts which you actually know already.

Just as I illustrated in the previous post how 마찬가지 is in fact "마치 + 한 + 가지" put together, 고지식하다 is likewise simply a combination of  "곧 [直(직)] + 이 (affix) + 식 [識(식)] (+ 하다)." "곧" can be a tricky word to describe and translate, but it has a general temporal meaning of "at once, right away, straight away," which also encompasses the sense of "upright, straight, just." When you combine "곧" with the affix 이, ㄷ + 이ends up being pronounced as  ㅈ+이 -> 지, hence the "고지" part of 고지식 (cf. the pronunciation of  "등받이" as 등바지, meaning the "backrest of a chair"). Once again, a spelling change has concealed the origin of a word and made it seem like a different word altogether.

The final "식" in 고지식 means "to know, knowledge." So, if we put together all that we've seen so far, we have "right/ just (as) + (one) knows (곧 + 이 + 식)." In a smoother and less literal translation, the word can be described as "doing just as one knows." This is where the sense of being inflexible, stiff and rigid comes from, since person who is unwilling to learn anything new and only does as they already know or have been taught is considered inflexible and rigid.

백문식. 우리말 어원 사전. 1st ed. 서울: 도서출판 박이정, 2014. Print. 

The origins of 마찬가지 and 매한가지

I've talked about changes in pronunciation concealing the original meaning of words before, and 마찬가지 is another example of this. Both 마찬가지 and 매한가지 similarly mean "same, alike" but have slightly different origins.

As one can see from examining the two words, they both end with the word 가지 which literally means "branch" but also commonly means "kind, sort" in a figurative sense. The "한" in 매한가지 is the shortened version of the Korean number one "하나," used when the number is combined with another word. What is interesting here is that 마찬가지 also has the number "한" in it, but the spelling has concealed it. 마찬가지 can be broken down as follows: "마치 + 한 + 가지" ("as if/ like + one + kind/ sort"). When combined with 한, the 치 of 마치 ends up merging with 한 to form 마찬 (마치 + 한 -> 마찬). If you repeat 마치 and 한 in succession quickly enough, you'll be able to intuitively feel why such a phonological and spelling change has occurred.

The 매 in 매한가지 simply means "having no distinction, like." So ultimately, when broken down and analyzed, both 매한가지 and 마찬가지 mean "like one kind/ sort."

*As a side note, the word "가지" in Korean has very similar cognates in both Tungusic ("gáčin") and Mongolian ("xačáin"), which is certainly not a coincidence given their shared history and linguistic similarity.

백문식. 우리말 어원 사전. 1st ed. 서울: 도서출판 박이정, 2014. Print.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Teaching and pointing in Korean

At some time or another, most learners of Korean have likely heard native speakers say 가리키다 (to point out/ indicate) when they meant 가르치다 (to teach). The confusion of usage is relatively easy to understand in context and poses no serious challenge to understanding if one knows both words, but why exactly do Koreans sometimes confuse the two?

The answer can be found in the origins of the two words. They actually originate from the same root and share a common meaning. The word "가르치다" originally had both senses of "teaching" and "pointing out," although today the two meanings have split into different words which are used independently of one another.

The root of the words 가르치다 and 가리키다 is "갈," meaning "to split up (and thereby distinguish something)" (as in 가르다 "to split/ divide" and 가리다 "to distinguish/ select," both from the same root). To this root is added "치다," which in this context means raising, rearing or cultivating. An example of this is the word 양치기 which means "shepherd/ shepherding." Likewise, 가축을 치다 means "to raise livestock."

This dual meaning of "distinguishing/ pointing out" and "raising/ cultivating" within the word 가르치다 makes it clear why Koreans sometimes use 가리키다 instead, and also reveals the common origin of both words. When Koreans use 가리키다 to mean "to teach," it's because they are making a connection between 가리- / 가르-. However, as I mentioned earlier, the two meanings are separate in modern Korean and learners should be conscious of this when learning the two words.

백문식. 우리말 어원 사전. 1st ed. 서울: 도서출판 박이정, 2014. Print.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Brushing your teeth in Korean

When words pass from one language or country to another, you will usually find that the pronunciation changes to suit the new language. Words may even be subject to changes in pronunciation within the same language over time, which often obscure the original meaning (consider the change to "daisy" from the original "day's eye (dæges eage)" in English). An interesting case of this in Korean is the word "양치(질)," meaning "to brush one's teeth." 

In the historical text 계림유사 (12th century), the pronunciation is indicated as "養支 (양지)." Spelled with its original Hanja (Chinese characters) the word is 楊枝 (양지), which literally translates to "willow tree branch." At the time, willow tree branches were used as a substitute for our modern toothbrushes, as can be seen at 1:30 in the following video. According to the video, willow tree branches were used because they disinfect your mouth and help stop toothaches:

As the original meaning of the word grew less clear over time, it was influenced by the Chinese characters "養齒 (양치)," meaning "to take care of one's teeth," which changed the pronunciation of the word to the modern form 양치 and obscured the original sense of the word.

The word "양지 (楊枝)" crossed over to Japan and was pronounced "요지 (yoji) but instead meant "toothpick". (Even now, yoji, or "ようじ (楊枝) is the Japanese word for toothpick.) At some point in time, very likely during Japan's occupation of Korea, the word "요지" returned and can still be found in dialects of Korean to this day where, as in Japanese, it means "toothpick" as opposed to "brushing one's teeth."

백문식. 우리말 어원 사전. 1st ed. 서울: 도서출판 박이정, 2014. Print.