In the last round of Explosive Korean Slang, we took a look at some phrases that started with the double consonant, ㅃ . Today we continue on with the series, only this time we’ll be studying idioms and colloquial expressions that start with ㄸ . When pronouncing these letters, the important thing to remember is that you have to let the air pressure build up behind your tongue before releasing in order to create the proper sound. At first, this may take a second or two, but later on, when you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to enunciate the sound faster. Don’t hold back because your embarrassed — just go for it!
The order of today’s words is based on their frequency in day-to-day conversation.
1. 땡땡이 치다 – to skip (class or work), to ditch (class), to play hooky
There is no clear consensus on the origin of this phrase but there are two main schools of thought. Some people say that the genesis of the expression was the mark that teachers used to make in attendance books next to the names of students who were absent. That mark was — and similar marks are still — called “땡땡.”
The other, slightly more broadly believed idea on this idiom is that it comes from the onomatopoeia for a bell sound, which is also “땡땡.” Just as in the West, Korean schools have long used bells to signify the end of periods and the conclusion of the school day. “땡땡이 치다” could’ve have started off meaning that one wasn’t going to wait for the school bell to ring, but instead, ring it themselves — in their minds at least.
This phrase can be used to describe skipping out on any function that one was originally required to attend.
- 너 요새 왜 그렇게 자꾸 땡땡이 치니?
- Why are you always skipping class lately?
- 오늘 또 교육 있는 거야? 벌써 몇 번째야? 그냥 땡땡이 치고 어디 놀러 갈래?
- We’ve got another training session today? How many times has it been? Wanna just ditch and go hang out somewhere?
대박 터뜨리다: to hit the jackpot
대박나다: to be very successful
Some say that this phrase comes from the gambling term “박,” which is the Korean word for the “pot.” Attaching the prefix to it gives us “대박,” which just means a large pot that has accumulated over many rounds of betting. This phrase may also have originally meant, “big ship.” In the old days, a large ship coming to port in your town meant increased business and lots of trade for all. There is even a third idea on the matter that says the term originates from the 흥부놀부전 (the Story of Heungboo and Nolboo). Heungboo planted seeds that he got from a swallow and they grew into a giant gourd. Inside were all sorts of treasures. Since the word for gourd in Korean is “박,” it’s easy to see how people would think that the expression “대박” came from this tale.
Irrespective of its roots, the phrase is most often used to describe someone’s very successful business venture.
- 존은 장사 잘 된대?
- How is John’s new business going?
- 이번엔 진짜 대박난 것 같던데. 어제 보니까 네이버 ‘요즘 뜨는 이야기’에 걔에 대한 기사도 나왔어.
- It seems like he really hit the jackpot this time. I saw an article about him under the trending news section on Naver.
In a new twist on the idiom, youngsters these days use the phrase “대박” to describe anything that is amazing or shocking. Here’s an example dialogue:
- 어제 코엑스에서 내가 누굴 봤는지 알아?
- You’ll never guess who I saw yesterday at Coex Mall.
- 빅뱅의 태양!
- Taeyang from Big Bang!
- 말도 안 돼! 대박! 싸인 받았어?
- No way! That’s crazy! Did you get his autograph?
3. 시치미 떼다 – to play dumb / to feign innocence
The origin of this phrase is more clear cut than the others. This phrases dates all the way back to the days of yore, when raising and training birds for hunting was a common practice in Korea. With all the time and monetary investment that went into training a bird, one always took measures to mark the fowl as one’s property. A property tag that was attached to the tail feathers of these birds was called a “시치미.” When someone absconded with someone else’s bird, the first step in eradicating any traces of their crime was to rip off this name tag. To tear something off in Korean is “떼다.”
- 너 내 책상 위에 있던 도너츠 먹었지?
- You ate the doughnuts that were here on my desk, didn’t you?
- 시치미 떼지 말고 사실 대로 말해. 그럼 입가에 묻은 크림은 뭐야?
- Don’t play dumb. Just tell me the truth. If you didn’t eat them, what are those crumbs doing all around your mouth?
- 어제 컴퓨터 고장낸 사람이 Mr. 김이라면서?
- I heard Mr. Kim is the one who broke the computer yesterday.
- 그렇대요. 그래놓고 계속 시치미를 떼고 있었지 뭐예요.
- That’s what they’re saying. But naturally he’s just playing dumb about the whole thing.
- 이기상 씨는 자기 잘못이 아니라고 계속 시치미를 떼다가 확실한 증거가 나오자 잘못을 시인했다.
- Mr. Lee kept playing dumb about the whole affair until we secured some concrete evidence and then he gave us a confession.
Now for the less-used idioms that involve ㄸ
4. 떼어 놓은 당상 – a shoo-in / a sure thing
Now we move on to the idioms that you can impress your friends with. This first one is especially timely considering the upcoming elections. Just as we describe a certain candidate as a “sure thing” or a “shoo-in,” Koreans use this expressions to talk about someone who will certainly win an election or contest.
- 올해 Mr. Lee가 당선될 확률이 높아. 회장 자리는 떼어놓은 당상이야.
- I think Mr. Lee’s chances of being elected this year are really good. He is a shoo-in for chairman.
- 정민은 한번도 일등을 놓친 적이 없으니 이번 시험에 합격은 떼어놓은 당상이다.
- Jeongmin’s never been anything but first place. It’s a sure thing that he’ll pass the test.
- 대부분의 경쟁자가 출전하지 못한다고 하니 김선수한테 이번 올림픽에서 금메달은 떼어놓은 당상이다.
- With most of her main competitors announcing that they wouldn’t be able to attend this year, a gold medal for Kim at the Olympics is a sure thing.
5. 떡 고물이라도 없나? Are there any table scraps for me? / How about tossing me a bone?
Amongst the various kinds of ddeok you may have encountered during you time in Korea, you may have noticed that certain varieties are covered with what looks like powdered chocolate. The first time I bit into what I thought was going to be an explosion of chocolatey sweetness in my mouth only to find out it was unsweetened ddeok and flour, I felt deceived and instantly turned off to the traditional dessert.
Knowing now, however, what to expect before I bite into it has made the ddeok much more of an enjoyable experience for the palate. Anyhow, these sprinkles of flour or whatever else, proverbially represent a secondary, or lesser profit. Just as in English, where a situation in which one person takes most of the profits and the glory and his or her supporters are left “eating the crumbs,” this express is often used when groveling for the leftovers.
- 요즘 김 씨 집에 조카가 자주 오네요.
- Mr. Kim’s nephew sure has been stopping by the house often lately.
- 그동안 찾아오지도 않더니 삼촌 장사가 잘 되니까 무슨 떡고물이라도 얻어먹으려고 오는 것 같아요.
- He never used to come by, but now that his uncle’s business is doing so well it seems like he’s always here to see if there’s something in it for him.
- 너 요즘 사업 잘 된다면서? 너 힘들 때 내가 도와줬는데 무슨 떡고물이라도 없어?
- I heard your business is really going well. I helped you out a lot when things weren’t so easy for you. Don’t you think you could throw me a bone?
- 잘 되는 친구 옆에서 떡고물 얻어 먹을 생각하지 말고 너도 네 일이나 열심히 해.
- Instead of trying to ride on my coat tails, why don’t you just focus on your own business?