Korean proverbs

In a lesson during my first time in Korea, the textbook had a page about English-language (mostly English) proverbs. As well as struggling with the proverbial meanings, the students also seemed not to understand the whole idea of a proverb. I tried to elicit a Korean proverb, but one student flatly stated that there were no such things. This seemed unlikely in a land of Confucianism, Buddhism and Christianity, all known for aphoristic teaching, and folk wisdom is pretty much the same the world over.

A few days later, in the middle of a completely different discussion, a student in a higher class said, ‘Well, as we say in Korea: “The ship with a hundred captains ends up in the mountains”’, which of course was exactly what I’d been after. (Obviously, compare ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth’.)

Jump ahead eight or nine years to this morning, when I went to a hospital for physio treatment. There was a bookstall, possibly run by the hospital auxiliary. I looked for an easy book in Korean. There was a book about countries of the world, which I thought might be too restricted in its language. Then I saw a pocket-sized book of short paragraphs. I translated the title (via a mobile phone app) as ‘Proverb Dictionary’. Yes, 244 (pocket-sized) pages of Korean proverbs, while I thought I might be able to dip into, and attempt to translate, either with what Korean I know, or with the help of an app or Google Translate. Each entry has the proverb itself and a short explanation. Two start with ‘ship’, but I can’t see the word for ‘mountain’ (unless they use a more formal word).


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