Language story at someone else’s expense…

October 30, 2007 at 11:04 am 2 comments

With as much Korean as I speak, I don’t really have any funny stories about using the wrong word and embarrassing myself. I do have one…but it is really rather bland. I’ll tell you about it and then share another funnier story about some other poor foreigners language faux pas.

I was in the kitchen of the orphanage one day searching for some chopsticks, so with my hands in the air I asked:

“손가락 어디에 있어요!” (son-karak awdi-ay ess-aw-yo
Which got a big laugh from the cook. It was then I realized I had really asked:

“Where are my fingers?”

You see, fingers is “손가락” (son-karak) and chopsticks are “젓가락” (cheot-karak)

Silly me….

But at least I’m not this guy:

A friend of a friend (OK, I know that’s lame..but the story is good) who was pretty new to Korea, and had gone to the grocery store in search of some salsa and chips. One thing that foreigners learn quickly is that there are a lot of Korean words that have been borrowed from English. So if you don’t know a particular Korean word, one possible solution is to use the English word, and it just might work. Especially if you pronounce using Korean pronunciation rules.

So, the guy finds a store clerk and proceeds to ask for the salsa. But he doesn’t speak any Korean, he pantomimes dipping chips into some chips into a bowl of salsa, and he says “SALSA, SALSA!” The clerk gave him a mortified look.

In Korean what he was saying was really “설사” (sawl-sa) Precise pronunciation is really very important in Korean, as s slight vowel change can completely alter the meaning. He learned that lesson. In English, it might be sawl-sa, or sall-sa, etc. In Korean it is ONLY “살사” (sall-sa) “설사” (sawl-sa) as it turns out is diarrhea . Notice the difference?! It’s really slight! So this poor chap thought he was showing the clerk dipping ships into a delicious crushed tomato sauce, but he communicated a very different message!


Entry filed under: Korean, Language.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. YJ  |  November 5, 2007 at 7:38 am

    LoL! Cool. ……..Hi, I’m stranger. I just take a look around your blog. It’s so funny.

  • 2. Rachell  |  November 7, 2007 at 11:28 pm

    That was one of the first things I learned my first year…(I had to take a trip to the hospital early on) but I’m glad after reading your story…now I’m scared to say “salsa” at all. I teach a cooking class, and I sometimes use it…I know I should tell them the real word. But I just call it sauce.

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