Korean Language Blog

U-gong-i-san (우공이산) Posted by on Jan 6, 2009 in Grammar

Today’s post is going to feature a four letter Korean proverb for the New Year.  As you know, four letter proverbs are represented by Chinese characters.  Here are the Chinese characters for the four letter proverbs: 愚公移山.  Let’s break this proverb down to its syllables.  This character is pronounced as ‘u.’  It means foolishness.  The next character is and is pronounced as ‘gong.’  Now, this character could have several meanings.  It could mean ‘man’ or ‘sir.’  For the purposes of today’s proverb, let’s focus on the meaning for ‘man.’  The character is pronounced as ‘i’.  (i) is the root word meaning to move or transfer.  Lastly, this character is pronounced as san and means mountain.

Altogether this proverb means, ‘the foolish man who moved a mountain.’  Believe or not, this is a proverb with a positive meaning.  Before I go further into what this proverb means, let me tell you the story behind this proverb. 

A long time ago, there was a man named ugong (우공).  Ugong (우공) noticed one day while walking that there were two mountains.  The two mountains were connected to each other and they formed a formidable blockade so that people had to walk around it to get to the other side.  This is when ugong (우공) got the idea to gather his sons and dig a pathway between the two mountains.  Every day ugong (우공) and his sons would get a shovel to try to create a pathway.  The work was difficult and seasons would change with no progress in sight. 

The villagers laughed at ugong (우공).  They called him a foolish man for trying to perform such a difficult task.  Ugong (우공) just replied and said, “After I die, my sons will carry out the work and their sons will carry out the work when my sons die.  You’ll see, there’ll be a passageway between the mountains.”  Unbeknownst to ugong (우공), the spirit residing on the mountain overheard ugong (우공).  He felt pity for ugong (우공) and decided to help ugong (우공).  The spirit moved one of the mountains, creating a passageway between the two mountains.

So what’s the moral of the story?  The moral is, hard work pays off.  With persistence and dedication, you can achieve your dreams.  True, ugong (우공) had a little help from his sons and the mountain spirit, but nonetheless his goals were fulfilled.  Now let’s tie this story back to  愚公移山 (u-gong-i-san), our four letter proverb.  This proverb literally means, ‘the foolish man who moved a moutain.’  Figuratively it means that you can move a mountain as well, especially if you work hard.  The moving of a mountain symbolizes an impossible goal or dream.  Therefore, this proverb signifies that an impossible dream can be accomplished with some persistence.

Why did I choose this proverb to represent the New Year?  Looking back at 2008, it looks like people had a rough year.  No matter how hard 2008 seemed, let this proverb be an inspiration to everyone.�

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  1. Rod:

    Thank you very much for posting on your blog.
    It’s really great.
    I have a question

    You said:
    “As you know, four letter proverbs are represented by Chinese characters.”

    I don’t know about it. Just 4 letter korean proverbs are represented by chinese characters?
    What about proverbs with more or less letters?
    Aren’t they represented by chinese proverbs?
    Does it mean all chinese proverbs that came to korean language hve 4 letters?

    I would like to know more about it please.

    Thank youvy much