Nearly every language that exists has idiomatic expressions which can be difficult to interpret in the beginning.
For example, you probably heard the English idiom “beat around the bush” which does not literally mean someone is running around with a cane, beating the bushes.
Hence, idioms are funny as the literal meaning means nothing but gibberish. However, for native speakers, there is no better way to express their feelings or situation like how an idiom could do.
Korean is no exception to this. If you watch Korean dramas or movies you probably heard a few Korean Idioms that do not make sense in other languages.
Here we go, 9 sarcastic Korean idioms you need to master!
1. 기가 막히다 [Gi-ga ma-ki-da]
Literal translation: one’s energy gets stuck or blocked
Actual usage: to be at a loss for words when one hears something unbelievable.
When you are 기가 막히다 (Gi-ga ma-ki-da), it means you are taken aback by something or you are at a loss for words and find something totally unbelievable. It is typically used in a negative situation to express disbelief or astonishment about something.
Girl: 나 임신 했어
Mom: 뭐라고? 내가 기가 막힌다 …
Girl: I am pregnant!
Mom: I am at a loss for words…
Literal translation: to hit the back of the drum.
Actual usage: to hear about something late (certain news); to fuss around after the event.
This Korean idiom, 뒷북치다 (dwit-ppuk-chi-da) is used when someone learns about something after everyone else knows about it, but thinks it is new information or it is something that just happened.
Girl: 야! 소식 들었어?
Boy: 무슨 소식?
Girl: 태양하고 민효린하고 결혼했데!
Boy: 몰랐어? 그거 다 알잖아! 뒷북 좀 치지마
Girl: Hey! Did you hear the news?
Boy: What news?
Girl: Taeyang and Min Hyo-rin got married!
Boy: You didn’t know that yet? Stop fussing around what everybody knows already.
3.병주고 약주다 [byeong ju-go yak ju-da]
Literal translation: to give disease and then give medicine.
Actual usage: to say something hurtful to someone and then to say something nice to cover it up.
Saying something without thinking almost always causes a problem, whether it is making something worse or hurting someone’s feelings. Often times, people try to fix the problem or cover up the damage.
This Korean idiom can also be used if a person says something hurtful, then quickly tries to come up with something to cover up his/her thoughtlessness; however, it is already too late.
B: 어, 어때? 좋아?
A: 난 생머리가 더 잘 어울리는 거 같아. 어, 근데, 옷도 샀어? 그건 잘 어울리네.
B: 됐어, 병주고 약주냐?
A: Did you curl your hair?
B: Yeah. How does it look like? Do you like it?
A: I think you looked prettier with straight hair. Did you buy new clothes too? It suits you well.
B: Forget it. Are you trying to comfort me after you hurt my feelings?
4.김칫국부터 마시다 [gim-chit-guk-bu-teo-ma-si-da]
Literal translation: to drink kimchi soup first.
Actual usage: to be excited over something that you don’t know for sure will happen or planning out things first.
This Korean idiom comes from an old expression that says “the person who might give you rice cakes is not even thinking about giving you the cakes, but you drink your kimchi soup first.”
Rice cake is a delicious treat, and in the past, it was common to eat rice cakes with cold kimchi soup because the rice cake is too dry without some sort of soup or water.
If you are excited about getting some rice cakes and you drink the kimchi soup out of excitement before eating the rice cakes, should you ever get any, you may struggle with eating the dry rice cakes when you get them.
The same goes for making plans about something that has not happened yet or if someone is unsure about something that has not happened yet or if someone is unsure about something happening but yet he/she is still making plans out of excitement.
A: 오늘 승진 결과 나오는 거 알아?
B: 어, 이번에 승진 1순위 잖아. 기쁘지?
A: 아니, 아직 승진 된 것도 아닌데 김칫국부터 마시기 싫어
A: Do you know that the promotion results are coming out today?
B: Yes, I am sure you will get promoted, so you must be happy?
A: No, I don't want to be excited about something that hasn’t happened.
5. 잘난 척하다 [jal-lan cheo-ka-da]
Literal translation: to pretend to have been born and brought up well.
Actual usage: to brag.
This Korean idiom is used to brag about anything and everything: yourself, your skills, your parents, siblings, money, etc.
Since no one likes someone who brags or shows off a lot, if someone says “잘난 척하다” to you, it's never a good thing.
A: 헐! 대박!
B: 왜 왜? 좋은 일 있어?
A: 한국어 시험에서 최고점을 받았어
B:와~ 진짜 대박이다
A: 뭐 이미 예상은 했지!
B: 잘난 척 하긴!
A: Wohoo! I’m amazed.
B: Why? Something good happened?
A: I got the highest mark in my Korean test.
B: Wow! That is amazing!
A: I’ve already expected it!
B: You’re bragging again!
6.말은 쉽다 [ ma-reun swip-da]
Literal translation: Words are easy.
Actual usage: Easier said than done.
Rather than being taken literally as “words are easy” think of this Korean expression as having the same meaning as the English “easier said than done.”
If a task is easier to talk about than to do, then the words to speak are formed much easier than the action of accomplishing the task.
A: 살 빼는게 뭐가 어려워.
B: 해봤어? 난 힘들던데.
A: 그냥 매일 운동만 하면 돼
B: 그래.. 말은 쉽지
A: Losing weight is not difficult at all.
B: Have you tried doing it? It is really hard for me.
A: You just have to exercise every day.
B: Yeah… It is easier said than done.
7. 놀고 있다 [nol-go it-tta]
Literal translation: to be playing, to be hanging out.
Actual usage: to be not working at the moment; what you’re doing or saying is pathetic.
놀고 있다 can be used in two different ways: neutral and negative. In a neutral context, it is used to express that someone is doing the opposite of working, such as “playing around”, “fooling around”, “not working” “not focusing on what he/she has to do” or is “jobless”.
For a negative context, it is used when you are making fun of or laughing at someone for trying too hard to accomplish something, or the way they are going about is meaningless and childish.
B: 내일 수학시험때문에 공부하고 있지
A: 그런데 TV는 왜 켰어?
B: 그냥 심심해서. 공부하면서 보려고.
A: 놀고 있네~ 하나만 제대로 하세요
A: What are you doing?
B: I am studying for my Math test tomorrow.
A: Why is the TV on then?
B: I was just bored. I am studying while watching TV.
A: Get out of here. Focus on one thing!
8.생각이 없다 [saeng-ga-gi eop-tta]
Literal translation: to not have any thoughts.
Actual usage: to not be in the mood for something.
생각이 없다 literally translates as “to have no thoughts”. However, Koreans use it figuratively to mean “to not be in the mood” most often referring to food.
This expression is also used to describe a person/behavior to how inconsiderate or thoughtless they are.
A: 민정아 미안해, 그렇게 싫어할 줄 몰랐어
B: 내가 몇 번을 말해야돼? 생각이 없는 거 아냐?
A: 미안 미안, 화 풀어~
A: I am sorry Minjeong, I didn’t know you would hate it so much.
B: How many times have I told you? You really don’t think, do you?
A: I’m sorry. Please stop being angry at me.
9.머리에 피도 안 마르다 [meo-ri-e pi-do an ma-reu-da]
Literal translation: the blood on one’s head hasn’t dried up yet.
Actual usage: to be wet behind the ears (immature/inexperienced).
머리에 피도 안 마르다 literally means “even the blood on your head hasn’t dried up yet” insinuating that a person is too young and inexperienced to be doing something or acting a certain way – rude or arrogant.
This Korean idiom is used in a negative way and is often said as “how dare you to try to do this/ challenge me!”
This Korean idiom cannot be casually used in the same way as the English idiom “still wet behind the ears” so be careful when using this Korean idiom.
A: 야! 너 몇 살이냐?
B: 왜? 알면 뭐하게?
A: 어쭈! 이게, 머리에 피도 안 마른 놈이..
A: How old are you?
B: Why? What is it to you?
A: Why are you so rude? You’re still wet behind the ears.
If these Korean idioms have piqued your interest to know more about the Korean language, check out our courses and live classes here.