Korean


When I go out shopping on the weekend here in Korea I often see the following English signs at new businesses:

Grand Open! (WRONG!)

New Open! (WRONG!)

Renewal Open! (WRONG!)

Unfortunately, these signs are NOT standard English!  There is a reason you will not see these signs in the U. S.  They are not grammatical.  In all of these signs, “Open” is a verb.  The only time you see verbs on signs written in English is when the verb is a command, such as “STOP”, “YIELD”, or “WATCH FOR FALLING ROCKS”. Most signs in the U.S. are nouns or adjectives.  The signs above should say:

Grand Open –> Grand Opening! [a noun – an event; this store is celebrating a grand opening]

New Open! –> Newly Opened! [adjective – what kind of store; this store is newly opened]

Renewal Open –> Grand Re-opening (after a store has remodeled) [a noun – an event; this store is celebrating a grand re-opening]

Here are a few other signs you might see:

Closed for Remodeling (the store is changing it’s layout)

We Have Moved to ________

Going Out of Business (the store is closing – this is a sign that everything in the store is on sale)

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In English, we often say “catch a cold.” For other illnesses we often use the phrase “come down with.”

I caught a cold from my sister.

If you catch a cold, you should drink lots of liquids and get lots of rest.

He came down with the flu.

I haven’t been feeling well lately, I think I’m coming down with something.

When we don’t know the reason for the sickness, it is very common to say, “I’m coming down with something.

If you catch a cold or come down with any minor sickness in Korea, many Koreans will ask you if you have gone to the hospital! This sounds very strange to Americans. First, for colds and other minor sicknesses, many Americans do not see a doctor. They will take some medicine and stay home. Second, in America, it’s very common for a doctor to work in an office apart from the hospital. So, it’s much more common to say:

Have you been to the doctor? (CORRECT)

Have you been to the hospital? (WRONG!)

You should go to the doctor. (CORRECT)

You should go to the hospital. (WRONG!)

The only time we go directly to the hospital is for an emergency. Any other time, we go to the doctor first. If we need a test that the doctor cannot perform in his office or if we need to have surgery or another serious treatment, then we will go to the hospital.

This is translated directly from Korean: “매운 음식을 잘 먹어요”

The grammar is correct. The problem is we don’t say this in English. It sounds very strange. In English we would say, “Do you like to eat spicy food?” or “Can you eat a lot of spicy food?”

To answer the question, you could say, “Yes, I like to eat spicy food.” or “Yes, I can eat a lot of spicy food.”

To answer “no” you might say, “No, I can’t handle spicy food.” or “No, spicy food doesn’t agree with me.”

When used in this way, handle means to endure a situation or circumstance. It is usually used negatively, with “not.”

He couldn’t handle the roller coaster. It made him sick.

You can’t handle truth.

The idiom “not agree with” is used with food. It means that the food makes you sick or nauseous. It is only used negatively, with “not.”

The fish I ate last night didn’t agree with me. I was up all night.

This restaurant’s chili doesn’t agree with me. It always gives me diarrhea.

(Sorry for the long delay since my last posting. I’ve been very busy. Anyway, I’m back.  By the way, if you have any English questions, please feel free to send an email and I will do my best to answer.)

I just received a comment the other day asking if I could recommend a Korean slang dictionary. I am learning Korean myself, but I have never seen a Korean slang dictionary. The best Korean slang phrasebook I know of is the one I mentioned in an earlier post.

I have also come across another book which may be of interest to people wanting to learn about Korean idioms. It’s called, “How Koreans Talk” and it gives the derivation of many Korean idioms.

(The commenter asked for some references in German if possible… sorry I only know English… and a little Korean 🙂 )

Hey, I just read in the Chosun Ilbo that K-pop singer Rain was mentioned on the Colbert Report! Check out this YouTube clip. He doesn’t talk about Rain until about 2 minutes in, but it’s worth it.

Addendum: I just talked to a Korean friend of mine about this and he said that some Koreans were upset by the above video clip.  I hope no one is offended by this.  I don’t think there is anything mean-spirited about it.  If anything, the clip merely reminded me how little Americans really know about Korea.  Anyway, I’ll be interested to see what comments are posted about this.

There is nothing wrong with the grammar of the above sentence. Americans just don’t say it; I don’t think any other native English speakers (Britons, Australians, Canadians, etc.) say it either. It just sounds strange. (In case you are wondering, “Is it delicious?” is the direct translation of what Koreans ask someone who is trying a new food.)

Part of the problem is that “Is it delicious?” is a yes or no question. It’s too direct and there aren’t a lot of options for an answer.

So, what should you say? Americans usually say:

How do you like it? (or)

What do you think?

These questions are preferable as they are less direct and give the eater many more options for a response. The answer is up to you.

This is actually the title of a Korean phrasebook which talks about general Korean slang as well as “Curses and Insults” and “Lover’s Language.”

In American English, making out is common slang that (according to my personal definition) generally refers to two people doing more than casual kissing, but less than having sex. Sometimes making out means having sex, but I don’t think this is the usual meaning.

I should also note there is some confusion in translating “kiss” from English to Korean.

In American English, “kiss” generally means “뽀뽀” (a casual peck) such as:

Many Americans kiss their children before they go to sleep each night.

When Koreans hear the English word “kiss” they think of what we call in English “French kissing” or “deep kissing.” Actually, in English we usually just refer to this as “making out”:

They were making out in the living room when his parents came home!

Did you make out with your girlfriend yet?

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