Korean Language Blog

Korean Colloquial Expressions (Part 2) Posted by on Oct 7, 2021 in Culture, Idioms, Korean Language, Pronunciation, Slang, Vocabulary

I believe colloquial expressions in any language demand that you use your imagination. A long time ago I had a generous friend who taught me colloquial expressions in English. It was almost 20 years ago, and I still remember how fascinated I was by the brilliance of this particular phrase.  

“Does it ring a bell?”

Ding, ding, ding! 


Image by Peggy_Marco on Pixabay


A bell rang inside my head. I had never heard such an expression before, and it was instantly engraved in my head. The expression was too sensational to forget, and it still is in my 어휘 목록 (uh-hwei-mok-lok: a lexicon). 

Afterward, I was intensely interested in learning ‘living’ English rather than textbook English. In the same way, expanding colloquial expressions in Korean might open a different world for you. Let’s look at some interesting expressions. 


  1. 그는 손이 크다. (son-ee-kue-dah: He is generous.) 

It literally says that his hand is big. 손 (son: a hand) can have different meanings other than a physical body part. In this case, it refers to a unit of measurement. Each person’s amount of ‘handful’ is different depending on the size of one’s hand. Therefore, if someone says 손이 크다, it means that the person is generous to give things away.

In opposition, 손이 작다 (son-ee-jak-dah: the hand is small) is not necessarily an antonym of 손이 크다. It is incorrect to say this if you want to describe someone as being stingy. In this case, 통이 작다. (tong-ee-jak-dah: a container is small) is appropriate. 

Image by andreas160578 on Pixabay


2. 손 좀 봐 줘야겠다. (son-jom-bwah-joh-ya-get-dah: He deserves to be scolded. He needs a lesson.)

It literally says, “I should need to see his hand.” In this case, a verb of 손보다 is used as an idiomatic phrase. It means to fix or repair. Therefore, when someone says 손 봐 주다. (son-bwah-ju-dah: to be fixed, repaired), you’d better watch out.


3. 그는 입이 짧다. (ip-ee-jjal-dah: he doesn’t have a good appetite.) 

It literally says that his mouth is short. 입 (ip: a mouth) can mean something other than a physical body part. In this case, it means an appetite. Although we don’t say 입이 길다 (ip-ee-gil-dah: a mouth is long) if we want to say that someone has a healthy appetite.


4. 잔머리 돌리다. (jan-muh-ree-dol-ree-dah: take an easy way by using petty tricks.)

잔머리 (jan-muh-ree: a trick) can mean baby hair as well, but, in this instance, 잔머리 means a scheme or sly maneuver. 돌리다 (dol-ree-dah: swirl, twirl) is a verb that comes after it. This idiomatic phrase could be the teachers’ favorite term when students look for an easy way out.


Image by Couleur on Pixabay


5. 뒷북치다. (dwit-book-chi-dah: Thanks for the history lesson. Hindsight is 20/20.) 

Are you a ‘late-partygoer?’ then, you 뒷북치다. 뒷북 literally means drums that are at the back. 치다 means to hit. Imagine that you arrive late to a party after everyone has been discussing a controversial subject for a half hour and then you repeat something about the same topic. In English, we say that it is like beating a dead horse.


6. 필름이 끊기다.(pil-ruem-ee-gguen-gi-dah: I blacked out from drinking last night.)

This could be a useful expression depending on the circumstances. 필름 is a film. 끊기다 means to be cut. Let’s say, you and your boyfriend had a bit too much to drink the night before and he said something he should not have said to you. On the next morning, when you ask him about it, he replies,  필름이 끊겨서 기억이 안 나 (pil-ruem-ee-gguen-gyeo-suh-gi-uk-ee-ahn-nah: I don’t remember anything because I blacked out.”) I don’t want to get involved with anyone’s love affair, but it is up to you to give him a benefit of the doubt (or not). 


Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images on Pixabay


Did you enjoy learning Korean colloquial expressions? What did you think about them? Wasn’t it fun to learn about the stories behind them? To be honest, I went too far when I researched this topic. I still have a lot more to share with you, but they can wait for another time. Remember, learning a language requires passion and patience!

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About the Author: Flying Oyster

Hi, I was born and raised in Seoul, S. Korea. I have lived in Seattle for a while and I am traveling the world with my husband since 2016. It is my honor to share Korean culture with you all. Don't be shy to share your thoughts and comments! :) Talk to you soon. H.J.