The armpit of life

An esteemed Korean friend posted on Facebook a photo of an early spring scene with a comment which Facebook automatically translated into English for me, which I’ll get back to in a moment. His original is:

따스한 햇볕 잠자던 생명의 겨드랑이를 툭 치니 우후죽순처럼 일어나 춤을 춘다.

I can pick words out of that, but the whole sentence is way beyond me. If you know more Korean than I do, have a go.

Facebook’s automatic translation is:

Warm Sun sleeping with the armpit of life, wake up like a uhujugsoon and dance. 

which gives the general idea, but is obviously not exact. The two most problematic parts are armpit of life (생명의 겨드랑이) and uhujugsoon (우후죽순).

I tried Google Translate, which suggested:

After hitting the armpit of the life that had been sleeping in the warm sunlight, he got up like a bamboo shoot and danced.

We’ve still got the armpit of life, but at least now we’ve got a bamboo shoot.

Bing Translated suggested:

After hitting the armpit of the life that had been sleeping in the warm sunlight, he got up like a bamboo shoot and danced.

I was previously unaware of Papago, but it appeared when I searched for Naver translate. (Naver has a dictionary, but apparently not a translator.) It suggested:

When I hit the armpit of life in the warm sun, I get up and dance like a bamboo shoot.

(Note that Facebook’s version doesn’t have a subject, Google and Bing have he and Papago has I.)

I asked my friend how he would translate it for me as a foreigner. He first quoted Google:

Really Spring season makes all lifes dance like woosh bamboo.shoots

which is a) a different result than I got and b) not very good English.

He then provided another translation (he didn’t say where from – possibly his own), which is:

A bright sunny day awakens life back where upon dancing bamboo shoots blast into new life after a refreshing spring shower. 

우후죽순 by itself is bamboo shoot (Google), Woofu Bamboo Soon (Bing) and a rush of bamboo shoots (Papago). 생명의 겨드랑이 really is the armpit of life. When I asked him if it was a common expression in Korean, he replied “It is not common expression but sort of metaphysical word in Korean poem”. 

Not surprisingly, the only instances of the armpit of life I could find are negative:

If you ask me, ninth grade is the armpit of life.

What to do when your stuck in the armpit of life’s stink

And an image which states:

Saturday nights alone at home are the armpit of life – they stink.

If I had to find a positive equivalent for the armpit of life, using a body part, I would suggest the bosom of life or perhaps the womb of life (both more formal/poetic words). 

I don’t pretend to know how machine translation works, but I know it depends on a equivalent dataset in both languages. Papago’s translation seems to be the most accurate. It is, at least, the closest to idiomatic English.

I assume that my friend’s sentence is perfect poetic Korean. Machine translators obviously has great difficulty with poetry. (Compare 18th century German religious/devotional poetry.)


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