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.