Culture Quickies

Korean Expert: Understanding Korea Through Proverbs #01

It has been said that to understand a people, you must know their proverbs. There’s a lot of merit to this argument, especially since proverbs tend represent a common set of values, beliefs and ideals for a culture.

Each week, I’ll teach you brings you two Korean proverbs that you can use in everyday life (and sound like a complete boss). This is for all you wanting to know more about the language than the “Annyeong” and “Saranghae”, wanting to get deeper into the psyche of the typical Korean.




짚신도 짝이 있다
Phonetic: “Jipshindo jjagi itda.”

Literal: “Even the straw shoe has a mate.”
Meaning: “There’s someone out there for everyone.”

I suppose this is explains itself, really. Even for something as lowly as shoes made of straw that peasants wore, there is always a matching shoe that can make a pair. There’s someone out there for everyone.




바늘 도둑이 소 도둑 된다
Phonetic: “Baneul dodugi soh doduk dwenda.”

Literal: “A needle thief will become a cow thief.”
Meaning: “Small crimes will lead to big crimes.”

Like in many cultures, livestock were a sign of wealth. For many families, the cow was perhaps the single most valuable thing that they owned; able to work the land, carry impossibly heavily loads, provide manure, and in death provide invaluable and rare meat for a largely crop-growing agrarian economy. And only a few households could afford these animals because they were so valuable.

The proverb is saying that someone who begins to steal small, common things like needles and becomes used to small crimes, will eventually get to the point where they will not think twice about stealing things of extreme value, like the cow.

This proverb is also applicable with any immoral act or crimes. Someone who tells a few small lies without feeling guilt will eventually end up telling bigger and bigger lies. It’s used often as a warning by elders to youngsters, about not getting involved in bad things; often you never know when to stop until it’s far, far too late. The short form of this is 바늘도둑 소도둑 (Baneul doduk, soh doduk).


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