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Fun Korean Idioms

Posted by on April 15, 2012

In today’s lesson, we are going to continue our survey of Korean idioms and slang.  Just so there can be a unifying thread to the expressions, I’ve chosen to introduce phrases that start with the letter ㄷ .

These are arranged by frequency in daily language. The first ones are used quite often, while the ones towards the end of the list are less common, but still important to know.

뒤통수(를) 때리다 – to hit someone in the back of the head
뒤통수(를) 맞다 – to be hit in the back of the head

뒤통수 is the word for the back of one’s head. It’s proverbial meaning is associated often with surprise attacks as one can not easily defend the back of one’s head. To get hit in this part of one’s anatomy in Korean means proverbially to be “stabbed in the back.”  When someone who you believed in and felt comfortable with attacks you, “뒤통수 맞았다” is the way to express this unexpected affront. When the offender is the subject of the sentence, the proper form of the sentence is “뒤통수 때리다.”

유의어: 믿는 도끼에 발등 찍히다.

예문 3 (쉬운 것부터 어려운 것까지)

  • a: 이번 주에 김부장이 회사를 그만 두고 경쟁사로 갔대요.
  • b: 입사 때부터 사장님이 그렇게 믿고 키워줬는데 어떻게 그럴 수 있어요. 완전히 뒤통수 때린 거네요.
  • 친구를 믿고 돈을 빌려줬는데 친구가 연락을 끊었어요. 뒤통수 맞은 기분이에요.

뒤끝이 없다: to not hold a grudge
뒤끝이 있다: to hold a grudge

When describing someone who, after a little disagreement, seems to never forgive you, the 있다 form of this expression to use. Also, when talking about someone who immediately seems to forget and forgive after any altercation, the 없다 form of this phrase would be the perfect way to say, “He doesn’t hold a grudge.”


  • a: 과장님한테 또 한소리 들었어요?
  • b: 네, 한번 화가 나시면 왜 저렇게 심하게 말씀을 하시는지 모르겠어요.
  • c: 그래도 과장님이 뒤끝은 없으시잖아요. 금방 풀어지실 거예요.
  • a: 지수는 마음이 넓은 것 같아. 화 내는 걸 별로 본 적이 없어.
  • b: 그래도 뒤끝이 있는 편이라서 한번 화나면 오래 가. 그러니까 말조심해야 해.

3. 뒤가 든든하다 – to have strong backing

Just as we describe someone with powerful allies as someone with “strong backing” in English, so to can this expression be used in Korean. If you can’t mess with a buddy at work because his Dad is the CEO, you could say, “뒤가 든든해서 막 다루지 못하네요.”


  • a: 존은 뭘 믿고 저렇게 큰 소리를 치는지 모르겠어.
  • b: 존 집안이 보통이 아니래. 뒤가 든든하니까 그렇겠지 뭐.

4. 뒤를 보아 주다 – to have someone’s back / to cover someone

As with the previous expression, this idiom is used most often to describe someone who has powerful allies and shouldn’t be messed with.


  • a: 젊은 나이에 저렇게 빨리 성공하다니 실력이 대단한가 봐.
  • b: 그렇지도 않아. 누군가 뒤를 봐준다는 소문이 있어.
  • 그 공무원은 불법 영업을 하는 사람의 뒤를 봐주다가 직위 해제 당했다.

공무원: civil servant
5. 뒷북치다 – to be behind the beat / to be a day late and a dollar short

A 북 is a large Korean drum. When someone is late striking the drum, the other musicians can’t keep the rhythm and the music falls to pieces. Being a few beats behind — in the conversation or project etc. — is described with this expression. To say to someone, “뒷북치네” would be akin to saying, “Get with the program” in English. This expression is also used when someone is carrying on about an event etc. that has already passed.


  • a: 야, 이제 2차 가자.
  • b: 다들 1차만 하고 집에 가기로 했는데 왜 이제 와서 뒷북을 쳐?
  • a: 우리 가까운 데로 여행이나 갈까?
  • b: 여행 가자고 그렇게 조를 때는 못 들은 체 하더니 휴가가 다 끝나가니까 뒷북을 치네.


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