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Korean Idioms: The Art of Expressions Using Body Parts (Part 1)

learning korean Oct 25, 2023
Korean idioms: The art of Expressions using body parts

- Author: Good Job Korean team 
- Editor: Good Job Korean team 

👍 Contents (Click to navigate instantly)

✅ 눈이 높다
✅ 눈코 뜰 새 없다
✅ 귀(를) 기울이다
✅ 머리를 식히다
✅ 낯짝이 두껍다
✅ 어깨가 무겁다
✅ 목이 빠지게 기다리다
✅ 배가 아프다
✅ 손을 씻다
✅ 발이 넓다

 Language is more than just a tool for communication; it is a living reflection of the culture and history of the people. Similar to the English language, idioms in Korean (also known as 숙어 or 관용구) make expressions more interesting besides providing valuable insights into the Korean way of life and thinking.


 What are idioms, though? Idioms are a group of words in a phrase that do not relate to the literal meaning of its words. As the words are not translated directly for their figurative meanings, Korean learners got to familiarize themselves with these phrases through memorization and practice. Although 관용구 is sometimes hard to comprehend, learning it could help you speak more naturally with native Koreans.


 In Korean, many idioms use body parts. In this blog, let us explore some commonly used expressions using body parts such as nose and eyes.


1. 눈이 높다

*눈: eye

*높다: to be high, to be tall

Literal meaning: Eyes are high

Idiom meaning: To have high standards or unrealistic expectations

Idiom usage: You may use this expression to describe someone with high standards or unreasonably high expectations.


Example sentence:

언니는 아직 남자친구가 없어요. 눈이 높은 것 같아요.
My sister does not have a boyfriend yet. I think her eyes are high.

*언니: older sister (for female)
*아직: still, yet
*남자친구: boyfriend
*없다: to not exist


2. 눈코 뜰 새 없다

*눈: eyes

*코: nose

*뜨다: to open

*새 (contraction of 사이): moment

*없다: to not exist

Literal meaning: There is no time to open your eyes and nose

Idiom meaning: Too busy and have no time to lose

Idiom usage: This idiom suggests that someone is so busy and occupied that he does not have time to blink their eyes or move their nose.


Example sentence:

회사 일이 너무 많아서 눈코 뜰 새 없어요.
I have so much work to do that I don’t have time to open my eyes and nose.

*회사: company
*일: work
*너무: too (much), so (much)
*많다: to be a lot


3. 귀(를) 기울이다

*귀: ear

*기울이다: to lean, to tilt

Literal meaning: To tilt one’s ear

Idiom meaning: To pay attention, to listen carefully

Idiom usage: You may use this idiom to say, “Listen carefully.”


Example sentence:

수업시간에 귀 기울이면 수업내용을 이해할 수 있을 거예요.
If you pay attention in class, you will be able to understand the lesson.

*수업: class, lesson
*시간: time
*내용: content
*이해하다: to understand
*수 있다: to be able to, can


4. 머리를 식히다

*머리: head

*식히다: to cool (down/off)

Literal meaning: To cool one’s head

Idiom meaning: To calm down or think rationally

Usage: You may use this idiom when you need to take a break to let your brain rest to cool off after an argument, overworking, or to escape from complicated thoughts.


Example sentence:

머리를 좀 식히고 나중에 다시 얘기할까요?
Shall we cool down and talk again later?

*좀: a little
*나중에: later
*다시: again
*얘기하다: to talk


5. 낯짝이 두껍다

*낯짝: face

*두껍다: to be thick

Literal meaning: To have a thick face

Idiom meaning: To be shameless

Idiom usage: This idiom describes an overly confident person or someone shameless and does not learn from their mistakes.


Example sentence:

바람피우고 집에 돌아오다니 낯짝이 두껍군요.
You are so shameless to come home after cheating on (someone).

*바람 피우다: to cheat on
*집: home, house
*돌아오다: to return


6. 어깨가 무겁다

*어깨: shoulder

*무겁다: to be heavy

Literal meaning: Shoulder feels heavy

Idiom meaning: To bear responsibility, to feel the pressure

Idiom usage: You may use this expression when you feel you have a heavy burden or too many responsibilities.


Example sentence:

팀장님은 큰 프로젝트를 이끌어야 하기 때문에 어깨가 무겁습니다.
The team leader is feeling pressured because he has to lead a big project.

*팀장: team leader
*크다: to be big
*프로젝트: project
*이끌다: to lead
*때문에: because (of)


7. 목이 빠지게 기다리다

*목: neck

*빠지다: to fall out

*기다리다: to wait

Literal meaning: To wait with the neck falling out

Idiom meaning: To wait for something for ages

Idiom usage: This expression suggests that the speaker is impatiently waiting for something to arrive.


Example sentence:

내일은 졸업식 날이에요! 목이 빠지게 기다렸어요.
It’s graduation day tomorrow! I’ve been waiting for a long time.

*내일: tomorrow
*졸업식: graduation
*날: day


8. 배가 아프다

*배: stomach

*아프다: to be painful, to hurt

Literal meaning: Stomach pain

Idiom meaning: To be incredibly jealous or envy

Idiom usage: This phrase means someone is having a stomach ache. However, the other meaning of this expression is extreme envy or jealousy. This idiom may suggest the speaker feels that someone does not deserve success, luck, or happiness, so you should be careful when using this idiom.


Example sentence:

돈 자랑은 너무 많이 하지 마. 사람들이 배 아파할 거야.
Don’t show off your money too much. It will make people jealous.

*돈: money
*자랑(을) 하다: to show off *verb stem + 지 마: don’t do
*많이: a lot


9. 손을 씻다

*손: hand

*씻다: **to wash

Literal meaning: To wash hands

Idiom meaning: To refuse to be involved in something anymore, to quit doing something bad

Idiom usage: This expression is the same as that of in English. When you wash your hands of a situation or relationship, it suggests that you no longer want to be involved.


Example sentence:

우리 형은 깡패였는데 손을 씻었어요.
My brother used to be a gangster, but he washed his hands of that life.

*우리: our, us, we
*형: older brother (for male)
*깡패: gangster, bully


10. 발이 넓다

*발: foot

*넓다: to be wide, to be big

Literal meaning: To have wide feet

Idiom meaning: To have a wide circle of acquaintances

Idiom usage: You may use this idiom to describe a social butterfly. “To have wide feet” is an expression for someone with a big circle of acquaintances or social network.


Example sentence:

비즈니스 세계에서 성공하려면 발이 넓어야 해요.
To succeed in the business world, you need a wide social network.

*비즈니스: business
*세계: world
*성공하다: to be successful


 These idioms above are just 10 of many others commonly used in Korea. These idioms demonstrate how body parts are incorporated into the language to convey various meanings and expressions. They offer a deeper understanding of Korean culture and mindset. By using these idioms in your conversations, you can gain a richer appreciation of their language and culture, besides helping you connect better with native Korean speakers.

- Author: Good Job Korean team 
- Editor: Good Job Korean team