Korean language and culture series: Examples from ’49 Days’

I love 49 Days! It’s actually a pretty crazy show, but man, if it isn’t entertaining, I don’t know what is! But anyway, as I was watching episode 17 this week, I noticed several scenes that would have been perfect to use as examples for some of the topics that have already been covered or that will be covered in the future for the blog’s Korean language and culture series. So as opposed to doing a conventional episode recap, I thought it would be helpful for the drama fans to highlight those scenes from episode 17 here, and explain any language/cultural aspects of them that are likely to get lost in translation.


After seeing Yi-kyung take off in a taxi, Kang realizes what this may mean for Ji-hyun. He runs around the neighborhood screaming Ji-hyun’s name at the top of his lungs, but that is when he suddenly remembers the phone number listed on the cab that Yi-kyung took. He gets in his car and frantically calls the taxi company to ask the destination of the passenger earlier, making up a story about how the passenger was his terminally ill wife who ran away to die alone and now he must go find her before it’s too late.

But the word for “wife” Han Kang used here was a rather interesting word choice. As opposed to the more commonly used words for wife, such as “boo-in” (부인) or “ah-nae” (아내), he calls her “manura” (마누라). “Manura” is technically defined as a way to call one’s own middle-aged wife, but it is sometimes used by younger husbands as well when referring to their wives playfully or coarsely.

I pondered over how I would personally translate “manura” into English because “wife” did not seem to capture the essence of the original word used. I thought of “wifey”, but then decided to check how my Korean-English dictionary translated it. I almost died laughing when I saw that it translated it into “missus.” OMG, it’s sooo perfect!

So when Han Kang says “Nae manura went to die” in the clip above, it’s equivalent to him saying, “My missus went to die.” See what I mean by things getting lost in translation if it was merely translated as “wife”?

After finding Yi-kyung on the train and convincing her to come back, Kang waits outside her house while Yi-kyung and Ji-hyun’s soul talk things through. When Ji-hyun (in Yi-kyung’s body) returns back out to him, she speaks to him in the haeyoche speech level (see how her sentences end with “yo”). Noticing this, Kang tells Ji-kyung, “Drop the ‘yo.’ Didn’t we agree to speak casually to each other?” In other words, he is suggesting that they speak in the haeche speech level (a.k.a. “banmal”).

Ji-kyung explains that she’s afraid she might make a mistake (i.e., take on her own true identity as Ji-hyun if she gets too relaxed). So they agree to Ji-kyung’s wish to speak in the haeyoche speech level. Notice all the “yo” endings during that short exchange!

In contrast, when In-jung comes to see Yi-kyung, she is fully convinced that Yi-kyung is truly Ji-hyun. In-jung comes in to the house and talks in the haeche speech level from the get-go. At this, Ji-kyung (who is pretending to be Yi-kyung) retorts back, “You shouldn’t speak in ‘banmal’ to someone you don’t know.”

Anyway, back to the scene between Ji-kyung and Kang where they agreed to speak in the haeyoche speech level to each other. At Ji-kyung’s insistence, Kang leaves. But after Kang leaves, Ji-kyung softly whispers, “Gomawuh, Kang-ah.” (Translation: “Thank you, Kang.”)

Two things to note:
1. Unlike when she was talking to Kang earlier, Ji-kyung speaks in banmal here. Notice the absence of “yo” at the end of gomawuh.
2. “Ah” is attached at the end of Kang’s name as an exclamatory particle.  In other words, Kang is being directly addressed.

However, when Kang is being referred to in a conversation and not directly addressed, the particle “yi” is used instead. Did you catch that Ji-hyun referred to Kang as “Kang-yi” here?

Here’s a common mistake made by many folks.

1. I love you, Kang-ah! (Correct)
2. I love Kang-ah. Isn’t he great? (Wrong)
In this case, it should be: “I love Kang-yi. Isn’t he great?”  (Correct)

Now that Yi-kyung, Ji-hyun, and Kang have joined forces, they succeed in preventing the bankruptcy of Ji-hyun’s father’s company. Elated, the two lovers are about to go for a hug, but Ji-kyung stops in her tracks when she recalls the Scheduler’s warning not to engage in any skinship while in Yi-kyung’s body.

Disappointed himself, but also understanding of Ji-kyung’s situation, Kang jokes around and calls Ji-kyung “Song Yi-kyung noona” because she’s one year older than him. Not wanting to be a noona to him, though, Ji-kyung retorts back, “Do you think I want to be a noona to you… to someone who’s more of an oppa than any Oppa.”

Okay, that message was loaded, but we’ll save that discussion for the future!

So in closing, seriously, watch 49 Days now! What are you waiting for?!

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14 Responses to Korean language and culture series: Examples from ’49 Days’

  1. kcomments says:

    OMG! Your examples make it easy to understand. Thanks blue^^
    I have to admit after reading your post, I’ve started to notice and pay more attention to which level of speaking the characters were using, and enjoyed/understood more, so much so that I thought ,man, Blue posted something really making a break though for Non-Korean Kdrama viewers, kind of dig into cultural lingaul, please continue to do so. As for 49days, really anticipated how the writer will wrap up the show. *cross fingers* ^^

    • blue says:

      Yay, I’m glad that it’s helpful! The funny thing is that I too definitely pay more attention to what the characters say now because I’m always looking for examples for what I can use for any future posts.

      And as for 49 Days, you don’t understand how I’m literally dying right now to find out how it’ll end. I don’t know how I can wait until next week!

  2. ninimi says:

    hhaa, thx blue, especially about -ah and -yi

    coz i’m also kind a confused when Ji Hyun’s father keeps adressing Ji Hyun-yi, while Kang adress Ji Hyun-ah

    so it’s about direct and indirect speech, gomawoooooooo…

  3. xesre8 says:

    Thanks blue for your explanation. I feel so ashamed of myself, being one whom have been studying korean language for 2.5 years i was not taught of 마누라! Perhaps i am not one who is intuitive to find out.

    In lessons, we are always taught high respect – formal & informal speech. The low respect speech was covered only in 1 lesson. Please continue to do so. I enjoyed your posting on korean language & cultural series.

    감사합니다! 잘 헀습니다

    Oh, could i ask u also? why does korean like to end their words with symbols like “ㅋㅋㅋㅋ” or “ㅎㅎㅎㅎ” or “^^”? On what situations do they used these symbols?

    • blue says:

      Great job on your Korean!

      As for the symbols, “ㅋ” in the Korean alphabet has the same sound as that for “k.” And “ㅎ” that for “h.” Thus repeating ㅋis like that of typing the laughing sound “kekekeke” in English and repeating ㅎ is like that of typing the laughing sound “hehehehe.”

      “^^” indicates a smiley face. Sometimes it is also written as “^.^” to show the nose as well. The two caret symbols (^^) are supposed to represent the crescent moon shaped eyes (eye smile) that some people make when they smile. Some famous examples include pop singer Lee Hyori and SNSD member Tiffany.

      • Iviih says:

        Oh, I always wanted to know what this ”ㅋㅋㅋㅋ” or ”ㅎㅎㅎㅎ” meant! So nice to know.. xD

        lol and about the smile face… I always thought the dot was the mouth, like doing a cute pout XD that is why I prefer to do it like this ^_^ lol

      • xesre8 says:

        Wow thanks blue! It was indeed an eye opener for me. I am sorry but I have 1 last question. Also come across this ‘ ~~~~’ , what does it mean?

      • blue says:

        You may be right! I never thought of it that way, but the dot may very well be a pout. I’ve always just assumed ^.^ was a smiley face with nose and ^_^ was a smiley face with mouth. Hehehe.

        I don’t think the squiggly lines have any special meaning, but I’m not sure. It may just have been that individual’s thing. For instance, I sometimes use multiple squiggly lines as a page break. What was the context in which you saw the multiple squiggly lines?

      • xesre8 says:

        U might be right, blue. I think there is no special meaning. Used after 하이~~, 즐거웠어요~~, 아직 멀어요~~, many types of context. I just saw another one “ㅠ ㅠ ” , OMO , so many symbols… ㅎㅎㅎㅎ

      • blue says:

        Now that you gave me examples, I can say with certainty that they (~~~) have no special meaning. 🙂 You may have seen it done in English as well. For instance, “Hi~~~!” or “Yeah~~~” Same thing. No meaning.

        “ㅠ ㅠ” is an emoticon for a crying face. You may want to check this out!

      • xesre8 says:

        Thanks again, blue! U have been a great help!

  4. mrmz says:

    I always wanted to know about the suffixes added after ppl’s names in kdramas that was very interesting thx 😀

  5. endodo says:

    This doesn’t have anything to do with your post, except that it’s about 49 Days so….OMG EPISODE 18. HOLY CRAP. My face right now–> (T______T) Did you, or did you not tear up as well? T____T

    • blue says:

      I indeed watched it! I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, and I just may have teared up while watching the anniversary scene. Shhhhh~~
      *sniff sniff*

      Just a couple of weeks after complaining that this drama was not really living up to its potential, who could have guessed that it would come to OWN me? I’m going to be sad when it’s all over.

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