Need Inspiration? 26 Wise Korean Proverbs to Change Yourself – Page 2 – Seoulistic

Need Inspiration? 26 Wise Korean Proverbs to Change Yourself

Source: blogspot


14. Korean Proverb: 웃는 얼굴에 침 뱉으랴

Pronunciation: oot-neun eol-gooleh chim bae-teu-rya

Literal meaning: How can you spit on a smiling face?

Situation: When dealing with customer service for example your tone of voice will determine how the customer feels.  A soft and calm voice will never cause anger, whereas if you raise your voice it may stir up angry emotions which may lead to a heated argument of vicious words.  I guess the saying “say it, don’t spray it” comes in handy here.


15. Korean Proverb: 소 잃고 외양간 고치기

Pronunciation: Soh-ilgo-weyang-gan gochi-gi

Literal meaning: Losing a cow, and then fixing the stable.

Situation: Used to scold someone for example, when a student prepares for a Biology exam after he got a big fat ‘F’.  Too late boy~ it would’ve been more helpful if you prepared beforehand!


16. Korean Proverb: 개구리 올챙이 적 생각도 못 한다

Pronunciation: Gae-goo-ri ol-chaengi jeok saeng-gak-do mot-handa

Literal meaning: The frog cannot think of the tadpole as an enemy.

Situation: You can’t hate people who aren’t as old or as experienced as you, because you were once just like them.


17. Korean Proverb: 등잔 밑이 어둡다

Pronunciation: Deung-jan miti eodoop-da

Literal meaning: It is dark under the lamp

Situation: Generally, people do not realize what is right under their noses.  Like, people pay more attention to things that happen far away from their house than they do right on their own doorstep. Appreciate what you have close by!


18. Korean Proverb: 호랑이에게 물려가도 정신만 차리면 산다

Pronunciation: Horangi-egeh mool-ryeo-gado jeong-shin-man chari-myeon sanda

Literal meaning: Even if you are cornered by a tiger, if you keep your cool you can survive.

Situation: If you are in a tight situation, keep calm and you’ll be able to get through it.




19. Korean Proverb: 하늘이 무너져도 솟아날 구멍이 있다

Pronunciation: Haneuli moo-neo-jyeodo so-sa-nal goo-myeongi it-da

Literal meaning: Even if the sky collapses, there will be a hole gushing out.

Situation: Used to comfort those in a bad situation.  There is a way out to any bad situation.  Where there’s a will there’s a way!


20. Korean Proverb: 나중 난 뿔이 우뚝하다.

Pronunciation: Nan-joong nan bbooli oo-ddook-hada

Literal meaning: Later the horns are incredibly special

Situation: It is a sad reality that usually the younger generation does better at anything and everything you do when you were their age :’-( So what it is really trying to say is the younger generation is much better prepared.




21. Korean Proverb: 화약을 지고 불 속으로 들어간다.

Pronunciation: Hwa-yakeul ji-go bool sok-euro deoreo-kanda

Literal meaning: An insect falling into gunpowder and entering the fire

Situation: Said to those just asking for trouble or inviting themselves into danger! You wouldn’t walk into a radioactive room without any protective clothing now would you?  The Korean equivalent of challenging an ahjumma to a heated argument…oh no…


22. Korean Proverb: 백지장도 맞들면 낫다

Pronunciation: Paek-ji-jangdo maj-deul-myeon nat-da

Literal meaning: It is better if the papers can be lifted together.

Situation: Two people working on a project can generally achieve better results than the person working alone.  Two heads are better than one after all!




23. Korean Proverb: 장구를 쳐야 춤을 추지

Pronunciation: Jang-gu-reul chyeo-ya choom-eul chuji

Literal meaning: One can only begin dancing when the Korean drum is tapped.

Situation:  Sometimes things don’t take off as planned and sometimes we need that extra help from someone in order to achieve something.  In other words, help is needed at times.


24. Korean Proverb:  고양이에게 생선을 맡기다

Pronunciation: go-yangi-ege saeng-seoneul mati-da

Literal meaning: Entrust a cat with a fish

Situation: Ever met a person who is a bad egg?  Well this expression is to express your doubts to someone like when you give that person your diamond watch, he/she might abuse that trust.


25. Korean Proverb:  구르는 돌에는 이끼가 끼지 않는다

Pronunciation: Goo-reuneun doole-neun iggiga ggi-ji an-neunda

Literal meaning: A rolling stone gathers no moss.

Situation:  Rather than rotting in the comfort of your very own home, get out and experience the world!  It is to suggest that an active person will have a more fulfilling life.


26. Korean Proverb: 오늘 걷지 않으면 내일은 뛰어야 한다

Pronunciation: O-neul keod-ji aneu-myeon nae-ileun ddui-eoya han-da

Literal meaning:  If you don’t walk today, you will have to run tomorrow.

Situation: Leaving things to the last minute?  If you don’t do enough today you will have to work even harder tomorrow.  However if you work hard today, you can have a rest tomorrow.


source: pastorkylehuber

source: pastorkylehuber


Which Korean proverb is most relevant to your life right now? Let us know in the comments section below!


Words by Ken Lee (Photographer/blogger for Seoul State of Mind).  Follow him on Facebook here!

Ken Lee
Ken Lee
Born and raised in London UK, and currently residing in Korea, Ken Lum Lee is currently an English Teacher at a middle school in Gwangju and the blogger and photographer behind the Korean lifestyle blog Seoul State of Mind. Ken enjoys travelling around Korea, aiming to capture the unique beauties, discover stories and secret hideouts of Korea. Ken can usually be seen with his camera, which is currently the love of his life, and pigging out in Korean BBQ restaurants. Check out his awesome blog: For regular updates, follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram


  1. negar says:

    wonderful post 🙂

  2. kevin says:

    Thanks a lot! I really enjoyed reading these proverbs. This is a nice and different input on korean culture, which I haven’t explored yet. Appreciate it!

  3. Sid Lee says:

    many of these, both in their literal translations and their interpretations, are completely wrong.

  4. Sid Lee says:

    8. this proverb isn’t about judging a person by their surroundings or company. it’s about accepting the consequences of one’s actions. or simply, “you reap what you sow.”

    12. he got the meaning for this one right, but the literal translation is way off. “from the bottom up” makes no sense at all. it should be “even cold water has its hierarchy” or “even when drinking water, there is a pecking order.”

    16. EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS ONE IS COMPLETELY WRONG. most korean words are homophonous, and 적 means “time when,” NOT “enemy” in this sentence.
    so the literal translation should be: “the frog cannot remember what it was like to be a tadpole.”
    and the interpretation should be: “forgetting what it was like to be young and foolish, the elderly tend to scold the young too harshly.”

    17. somehow, this guy took this one to mean “appreciate what you have close by.” but it actually means “your greatest weakness is always closest to you,” or “the chink in the armor is right under your nose,” anything along those lines.

    20. this is another one that is completely wrong, like #16. it doesn’t mean the next generation will do better than the last, or anything like that.
    literal translation: “the horn that grows last is the most erect.” (hehe. . . hehe)
    meaning: “slow and steady wins the race” or “he who finishes last finishes first.”

    21. the interpretation is correct, and the literal translation is MOSTLY correct. . . except for the word “insect.” i don’t know where the hell this guy got that from, but there’s no mention whatsoever of any insect in the proverb. . . maybe he used bing for his translation. :S

    24. this one is not so much about untrustworthy people in general, so much as people who are untrustworthy in particular situations.
    “don’t entrust a cat with a fish” basically means that a pothead shouldn’t sell weed cuz he’ll smoke his own supply.

  5. Donna says:

    I was surprised this was missing from your list, since many people try this at least once…but you cannot deny a problem by closing your eyes!!

    손바닥으로 하늘을 가리려한다
    Sonbadageuro haneuleul gariryeohanda
    Don’t try to cover the whole sky with the palm of your hand.

  6. James says:

    Hi Ken,

    This is a great list, thank you. Do you have any Korean proverbs derived from Confucianism?


  7. vivian says:

    Thanks for exposing us Korean-Americans of what Korean culture has to offer. I really have a lot to learn. Missing Korea~

  8. Meghanath Poudel says:

    고싱 끝에 낙이 온다
    I really like it
    Nice post

  9. Mary Grace Villasoto says:

    These are amazing! I learned so much from these. What I need to know next is on how to pronounce these correctly. Thank you!

    MGV ?

  10. Lizzie says:

    Definitely number 26 lol I’m a college student working on a paper where I have to create a myth of my own and was wanting to do one in the Korean standpoint so came here looking for inspiration and then I got to #26

  11. Geoff says:

    Lovely. We have similar ones in England.
    Sayings from other cultures are wonderfully revealing.

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