KOREAN MAXIMS: Fish Proverbs (2)

Korean Maximsand Folk Sayings about Fish 

2. Korean Folk Sayings about Other Fish

● JUNCHI (준치, “Herring”)

(1)Sseogeodo junchi (썩어도 준치): “Even when rotten, (it’s) still a Herring.”  This folk saying means (i) Anything that’s naturally good will never wear out or change; or (ii) a man of good nature and integrity will not change, come what may.  Because of its symbolic meaning, the Herrings used to be considered the great gift item in ancient Korea.

e.g.        A:            yojeum geu nonggu seonsuneun eoddaeyo?
                             요즘 농구 선수는 어때요?
                             “How’s that basketball player doing lately?”
              B:            sseogeodo junchirago ajikdo ggwae jal haeyo.
                             썩어도 준치라고 아직도 해요.
                             “As it’s said that it’s still a Herring even when rotten,
     he’s still doing pretty good.”

e.g.        A:            ajikdo geu chareul tayo? beolsseo isimnyeon an 
                             아직도 차를 타요벌써 이십년 됐나요?
                             “Are you still driving that car?  Isn’t it already 
                             twenty years old?”
              B:            sseogeodo junchirago bencheuraseo ajikdo tal manhaeyo.
                             썩어도 준치라고 벤츠라서 아직도 만해요.
                             “As it’s said that it’s still a Herring even when rotten,
     It’s still drivable since it’s a Mercedes.”

(2)Mat joeun junchiga gasido manta. ( 좋은 준치가 가시도 많다): “The tastier a Herring is, the more fine bones it has.”  This one has the English equivalent: “With the good comes the bad.”  The Herrings are very delicious, flavorful fish that come with lots and lots of fine bones, so if you get so greedy over them that you gulp them all down, it'll be far more likely that you will have their fine bones stuck in your throat.  Accordingly, you can never eat the Herrings hurriedly and gluttonously unless you want to suffer the pain.  Likewise, if you care too much for power, fame, or money, you'll probably find yourself going through misfortunes and adversity – very good lesson from a fish.

● DORUMUK (도루묵, “Sandfish”)

Maljjang dorumuk(말짱 도루묵): “Cleanly back again to Muk.”  This old saying has the English equivalent – “(It's) back to square one.”  Unlike the Sandfish which is a species of skink, Dorumuk, the Korean sandfish is a fish hence has no legs.  Dorumukis known for its big and chewy eggs that I used to love eating when I was little.  It’s been so long that I haven’t eaten the fish since I came to the States; that I don’t even remember when was the last time I had it.

These fish were originally named Muk () or Mogeo(목어) caught in the East Sea or Donghae (동해).  While King Seonjo (선조) was taking refuge in Hamgyeondo (함경도) or HamgyeongProvince during the Imjinwaeran (임진왜란, “Imjin War”), Japan’s sixteenth invasion of Korea (1592~1598), a local fisherman presented the fish to the king.  After one bite, the king instantly fell in love with the fish for it was so palatable to his tongue.  So he bestowed it the name, Euneo (은어, 銀魚), which means “Fish of Silver”).  When the king came back to Seoul after the war was over, he could hardly forget the taste of the fish, so he ordered the servants to bring him it.  Much to his disappointment, however, it didn’t taste the same.  In fact, it tasted great only because the king had been too far away from royal luxury for too long.  So the fish wound up being stripped of the honorary name when the king ordered, “Doro Mugirako bulleora” (도로 묵이라고 불러라) which translates to “Call the fish Muk as (it was called) before.”  In Korean, the word doro means “again” or “as before.” But the fish was called Doromuk (with the word doro added to its original name Muk), and later the name changed to Dorumuk

This is why Koreans say Maljjang dorumuk (말짱 도루묵) when all their efforts have come to nothing or turned out to be a waste.  The expression literally translates to “Cleanly back again to Muk,” in which maljjang means “completely, cleanly.” 

e.g.        seokdalgane daieoteuga maljjang dorumugi dwaebeoryeodda.
             석달간의 다이어트가 말짱 도루묵이 돼버렸다.
             “Three months of dieting turned out to be useless
 (so I have to start all over).”

● NOGARI (노가리, “Baby Pollock”)

Myeongtae (명태, “Pollock”) has been the nation’s fish in Korea for ages.  So it’s no wonder there’s been a variety of stories and folk sayings about the fish.  Since this fish is so popular that the numerous different names given to it and you should not think these names refer to a different species. It is alternatively referred to as Myeongtae(명태), Saengtae(생태), Dongtae(동태), Kodari(코다리), Bugeo(북어), Hwangtae(황태), and Nogari (노가리).  (Clickto learn more about Myeongtae.) 

When it’s fresh-caught, wet and alive, it’s called myeongtae (its original name) or saengtae, in which saeng means “alive.”  If it’s frozen, it’s called dongtae, in which dong means “frozen.”  When completely dried, it’s called bugeo (, the north fish) – the name has nothing to do with dryness but with its origin –the north sea.  When it was dried in the sea winds on the immaculate snow fields of Daegwallyeong(대관령) of GangwondoProvince all through winter, so it turned fluffy and yellow, it’s called hwangtae, in which hwang means “yellow.”  When just half-dried thus deliciously chewy, it’s called kodari, in which a native Korean word ko means “nose” and dari is from also a native Korean word dallida(달리다, “dangle, hang”).  The word kodariimplies the way it was dried – people put a thread through its nose and hung it to dry.  This name was given by the people of Sokcho, located in Gangwondo Province.

In Korean, a baby Pollock is called Nogari, which is also used as slang for a chatty mouth or a lie.  The expressions “Nogari ggada” and “Nagari pulda” are slang for “telling lies” or “talking A LOT (being gibberish),” derived from the fact the Pollock fish can lay as many as 4 million eggs in the late autumn – in Korean, the word ggada means “lay eggs.”

(1)Myeongtae manjin son ssiseun mullo saheul dongan gugeul ggeurinda.(명태 만진 씻은 물로 사흘 동안 국을 끓인다):  “(A person) makes soup for three days with water he used to wash his hands after touching (or handling) the Pollock fish.”  This folk saying is used to mock a cheapskate worthy to be despised.

(2)Bugeo han mari jugo jesasang eomneunda. (북어 마리 주고 제사상 엎는다):  “(A person) offers a dried Pollock and knocks over Jesasang.” Bugeo(북어, “”dried Pollock”) is a must item on Jesasang (제사상), a table spread with food and drink (for a memorial service for) the deceased ancestors.  Given that, how would you feel when someone donates one dried Pollock for your Jesasang in a patronizing way then ruin your family’s memorial service?  This old saying describes a situation, in which a person gives you a poor-quality, or cheap, item and then causes you a considerable loss or damage.

(3)Myeongtae han mari noko ddanjeon bonda. (명태 마리 놓고 딴전 본다):  “(A person) displays just one Pollock (in front of his store) and takes care of a different store.”  This old saying describes a situation, in which a person pretends to be a Pollock seller but secretly runs a totally different business.

(4)Bugeo ggeopjil ogeuradeul deutanda. (북어 껍질 오그라들 듯한다):  “(It is) curling up like dried Pollock skin when grilled.”  This old saying describes a situation, in which someone’s fortune is constantly diminished.

● MANGDUNGI (망둥이, “Goby”)

(1) Ggosiraegi je sal ddeutggi (꼬시래기   뜯기):  “A Goby bites into its own flesh”  Ggosiraegi is a dialect word of Mangdungi, used in Gyeongsangdo or Gyeongsang Province.  Mangdungi or Ggosiraegi is known to gluttonously prey on almost anything, even on each other or itself.  This folk saying mocks an immoral and unethical conduct of a person who is blowing it or screwing up by having a “dog-eat-dog” feud with family members or close acquaintances, or by “killing his own goose that lays the golden eggs.”

e.g.        Ggosiraegi je sal ddeutggi gatatdeon hanguk jeonjaeng
              꼬시래기   뜯기 같았던 한국 전쟁
              “The Korea War that was like “a Goby biting into its own flesh”
 ð  “The fratricidal Korean War

(2)Mangdungi je dongmu jabameongneunda. (망둥이 동무 잡아먹는다):  “A Goby eats its friend.”  This folk saying is derived from the fact the Goby fish feed on each other hence describes a situation, in which close friends bad-mouth and hurt each other.  In this saying, Mangdungi is pronounced /maŋduŋi/, not /maŋduŋgi/, and FYI, the word dongmu(동무, “friend”) is no longer used in South Korea as it also means “a Communist comrade” in North Korea. 

(3)Sungeoga ddwinigga Mangdungido ddwinda. (숭어가 뛰니까 망둥이도 뛴다):  “As a Flathead Gray Mullet leaps, so does a Goby.”  While the Flathead Gray Mullet is known to be strong enough to leap soooooooo high above the water, the Goby is a tiny fish dwelling in tidal areas, particularly on mudflats or sandy beaches.  Given that, it’s impossible for them to leap like the Flathead Gray Mullets.  In this saying, Sungeo is pronounced /suŋə/, not /suŋgə/.  Another Korean saying with the same implication is “Baepsaega hwangsae ddaragada garangi jjijeojinda” (뱁새가 황새 따라가다 가랑이 찢어진다), “A Korean crow has its crotch ripped while following a stork.”  These old sayings refer to the human desire to be equal to (or even above) the people around you in many ways, especially socio-economic status.  The English equivalent is “You can't keep up with the Joneses.” 

(4)Jangmada Mangdungi nalgga? (장마다 망둥이 날까):  “The Goby fish are not always available in the market.”  Even though the Goby fish are quite easy to get and inexpensive to buy, it’s not like they are available any time you go to the market.  This folk saying implies that “Good chances don’t always come around” or “You can't always get what you want.”

● BAENDAENGI (밴댕이, “Large-eyed Herring”)

(1)Jeo Baendaengi sogalmeori! or Jeo Baendaengi sogalddakji!( 밴댕이 소갈머리 or  밴댕이 소갈딱지):  “That Large-eyed Herring-minded man!” This saying translates to “That petty-minded man!”
(2)Sogi Baendaengi kotgumeong gatda. (속이 밴댕이 콧구멍 같다):  “(A person’s) mind is like the nostrils of a Large-eyed Herring.”  This saying translates to “A person’s mind is as small as the nostrils of a Large-eyed Herring,” thus to “A person is petty-minded.”
(3)Seongjil geupan Baendaengineun hwaga namyeon sogi noga jungneunda.(성질 급한 밴댕이는 화가 나면 속이 녹아 죽는다):  “A short-tempered Large-eyed Herring’s heart melts off to death when it’s angry.”  This saying translates to “When a short-tempered Large-eyed Herring gets angry, it dies from stress and rage.”

All these folk sayings above are derived from the fact that the Large-eyed Herrings are short-tempered and really die from stress immediately after they are caught.  FYI, Baendaengi is pronounced /bᴂndᴂŋi/, not / bᴂndᴂŋgi/.

● BOGEO (복어, “Puffer Fish”)

(1)Bogeo i galdeut handa. (복어 한다):  “(A person is) grinding teeth like a Puffer Fish (when it is caught).”  In their own defense against their predators, Puffer fish inflate by rapidly pumping water (or air when outside the water) into their super elastic stomach until they take on almost spherical shape, and all puffers have pointed spines, which looks (to ancient Koreans) as if they were angry.  This folk saying is derived from the fact that Ancient Koreans thought the puffers are hot-tempered so they grind their teeth and inflate themselves out of anger when they are caught.  This is why Koreans also called the fish Jineo (진어(嗔魚), “Angry Fish”) or Gipoeo (기포어(氣泡魚), “Bubble Fish”).  In short, this old saying refers to a person grinding his teeth while enduring unspeakable hardships and privations for the sake of vengeance.

 (2) Bogeo hanmari-e mul seomal (복어 한마리에 서말):  “15 gallons of water per Puffer Fish”  Puffer Fish can be lethal due to their toxins, Tetrodotoxin, produced and contained especially in their skin, eggs, and liver.  When cooking puffers, you should remove these poisonous parts and wash thoroughly with “15 gallons of water.”  (FYI, the word mal () is a traditional Korean counting  unit for grains.  One mal equals to 18 liters.  Here in this saying, seomal is three mal (54 lit.=15 gal.))  This saying implies you can never use too much water to wash this very toxic fish.  Beware, however, that you must be a specially trained cook to deal with the fish as it only takes one slight wrong move on your part to be lethal.

(2)Bogeo al meogo nolladeoni cheongeo aldo madahanda. (복어 먹고 놀라더니 청어 알도 마다한다):  “Once (a person) was intoxicated from ingesting the puffer eggs, he loathes the Herring eggs as well.”  Another Korean saying with the same implication is “Jara bogo nollan gaseum sotdduggeong bogo nollanda” (자라 보고 놀란 가슴 솥뚜껑 보고 놀란다), “Once a person was scared at the sight of a mud turtle, he even gets startled at the sight of a pot lid.”  These folk sayings have the English equivalents like  Once bitten, twice shy or A burnt child dreads the fire.

● BAEMJANGEO (뱀장어, “Eel”)

(1)Megi jandeung-e Baemjangeo neomeogadeut (메기잔등에 뱀장어 넘어가듯):  “As if an eel crawls over the back of a catfish.”  Both the eels and the catfish have a very slippery, sleek body.  Just imagine how smooth it’ll be when an eel crawls over a catfish – it’ll be like sleek meets sleek.  This saying is used when someone slyly and cautiously “weasels out of” something without arousing suspicion.  Another Korean saying with the same implication is “Gureongi dam neomeogadeut” (구렁이 넘어가듯), “As if a brown serpent crawls over the (earthen) wall.”  FYI, Baemjangeoand Gureongi are respectively pronounced /bᴂmjaŋƏ/ and /gurƏŋi/, not / bᴂmjaŋgƏ/ and /gurƏŋi/.

e.g.       geu sarameun Megi jandeung-e Baemjangeo neomeogadeut 
             chumuneul pihaedda.
              사람은 메기잔등에 뱀장어 넘어가듯 추문을 피했다.
             “He has weaseled his way through the scandal.”

e.g.       geu sarameun Gureongi dam neomeogadeut chumuneul pihaedda.
              사람은 구렁이 넘어가듯 추문을 피했다.
             “He has weaseled his way through the scandal.”

(2)Baemjangeo nuneun jagado jeo meogeul geoseun da bonda.(뱀장어 눈은 작아도 먹을 것은 본다):  “Even though an eel has very small eyes, it never fails to find its prey.”  This folk saying implies that even a man of narrow intellectual horizons has his own way to survive.
KOREAN MAXIMS: Fish Proverbs (1)