How many ‘real’ Korean words do you know? Like all other languages, the Korean language has been (and is being) influenced by other languages, and just like many English words are from French, a lot of Korean words are actually from Chinese.
However, there are still many words that have Korean origin. These words are called 순우리말 (soon-u-ri-mal), which literally means ‘purely our words’. 순우리말 words are beautiful, and unlike words from Chinese, they are unique and they’re found only in the Korean language. Today I’ll talk about some important 순우리말 words, so pay attention if you want to upgrade your understanding of Korean culture!
How to Say Beautiful In Korean?
Let’s start with 순우리말 words that mean ‘beautiful’. There are many, of course, but the most frequently used Korean word for ‘beautiful’ is 아름답다 (a-leum-dab-da).
Flowers are beautiful.
Note that this word can also be used about voice too, just like you can say ‘Her voice is beautiful.’
Another Korean word for beautiful is 예쁘다 (ye-ppeu-da). 예쁘다 is kind of weaker than 아름답다 but it’s more casual, so it’s more for everyday use.
너 오늘 진짜 예뼈.
(neo o-neul jin-jja ye-ppeo.)
You look really pretty today.
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Korean Words for Love and Affections
The prefix 풋~ means ‘first’ or ‘unripe’. For example, a 풋사과 (pus-sa-gwa) is an unripe green apple. So 풋사랑 is the love that you had when you were too young and innocent to know the real significance of falling in love, the person that you still reminisce about from time to time…
The love between couples isn’t the only form of love. 내리 means down, so 내리사랑 is the love that runs downwards within the family. It is the love that parents have for their children and grandparents for their grandchildren.
Korean Words For Nature and Beauty
I think this word is unique in Korean. 윤슬 means the rippling sparkles on water that are formed when sunlight or moonlight is reflected on the water's surface. It sounds beautiful and its meaning is also useful, so it’s sometimes used as a girl’s name.
여우 (yeo-u) is fox, and 비 (bi) is rain. 여우비, or fox’s rain, refers to the light shower that briefly falls while the sun is still shining in the sky. So what does the fox have to do with this? In eastern Asia, the fox has always been considered mischievous and good at 요술 (yo-sul: magic). If you’re thinking of the nine-tailed fox, yes, the 구미호 (gu-mi-ho) is an important figure in Korean myth and folklore. I guess when people back in the day saw something strange, like rain and sunlight coming down simultaneously, they thought it was a playful fox having fun!
This is a compound word: 꽃(flower)+샘(jealous)+추위(cold). It refers to the short period of cold that comes right before spring starts. It is said that the winter is ‘jealous’ of beautiful flowers and gives a last tantrum of cold before it finally goes away.
Korean Words For Hospitality and Food
나들이 means ‘to go outside and have fun for the day’. It can be going on a picnic, going to a theme park, or visiting a nearby mountain, forest, or lake. One of the Korean all-time spring songs is about 나들이: ‘나들이 갈까’ by 볼빨간사춘기!
나들이 갈까/ 날씨가 그렇잖아.
(na-deul-i gal-kka/ nal-ssi-ga geul-eoh-janh-a.)
Shall we go out/ The weather’s for it.
Another compound word! It’s the combination of 꽃(flower) and 놀이(to play). It means to go out and enjoy flowers. Many Koreans do this in springtime. We especially like to do 벚꽃놀이 (beoj-kkoch-nol-i), which is to see 벚꽃 (cherry blossom flowers). Have I done it this year? Well, we have a saying about 벚꽃.
벚꽃의 꽃말은 중간고사.
(beoj-kkoch-ui kkoch-mal-eun jung-gan-go-sa.)
The meaning of cherry blossom is midterms.
In other words, cherry blossoms bloom during the midterm exams period, so it’s impossible to go out to see them if you are a student.
까치밥 is the combination of 까치 (kka-chi: magpie) and 밥 (bab: food or meal). Yes, it literally means magpie’s meal. Traditionally, during the fall harvest period, Koreans would leave a few fruits (usually persimmons) per tree so that magpies and other wild animals would have something to eat before the cold winter. So why magpie in particular? Magpies were thought to be good omens, messengers of good fortune. It used to be a way of coexistence between humans and nature.
Today we looked into some beautiful 순우리말 words that you might not have known before. I was once told that learning a new language is the process of gaining another self, of developing a whole new way of thinking. It is about learning new names for things that you’re familiar with. At the same time, it’s also about finding words that don’t exist in your own language.
So why don’t you widen your world by using the words we learned today? Maybe you can talk about the 내리사랑 you’ve received on the next Mother’s Day. Or the next time you complain about the unpredictable weather, you’ll remember 꽃샘추위. Thank you for reading and see you next time!