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More Than 100 Ancient Korean Proverbs

Updated on September 29, 2015

A 1000-li (old Korean length unit, about 0.4 km) journey starts with one step.

A day-old pigeon cannot fly over a mountain pass.

A fish wouldn't get into trouble if it kept its mouth shut.

A great river does not refuse any small streams.

A hunter's knife cannot carve its own handle.

A kitchen knife cannot carve its own handle.

A man's youth will never die, unless he kills himself.

A newborn baby has no fear of tigers.

A nobleman's calf does not know how a butcher kills.

A physician's neighbour is never a doctor.

A poor old horse will have a worn out tail.

A sheet of paper is lighter if two of you don't try to carry it.

A stranger nearby is better than a far-away relative.

A turtle can only get on it by sticking its neck out.

A turtle travels only when it sticks its neck out.

After losing a cow, one repairs the barn.

After three years at a village schoolhouse, even a dog can recite a poem. (Practice makes perfect.)

Aim high in your career but stay humble in your heart.

An empty cart rattles loudly.

Anyone who goes hungry for three days will be inclined to steal.

Beans come out from where beans are planted, and padd (red beans) come out from where red beans are planted.

Better in the grave than be a slave.

Birds listen to day-words and rats listen to night-words. (Be careful of when or where you say, there are people around that may overhear you.)

Butterflies come to pretty flowers.

Carve the peg only after studying the hole.

Cast no dirt into the well that gives you water.

Cast not pearls to swine.

Catch not at the shadow, and lose the substance.

Catching a star in the sky.

Coming words will be beautiful if gone words were beautiful. (Sweet responses are begotten from sweet words. What you say is what you will hear.)

Cross even a stone bridge after you've tested it.

Do not draw your sword to kill a fly.

Don't try to cover the whole sky with the palm of your hand.

Drinking Kimchi-water first (before eating Ddeok, Korean rice cakes). (In ancient times, water from kimchi dishes were commonly drunk after eating Ddeok to restore hydration to the mouth or help swallow something as dry as Ddeok. Drinking the kimchi-water before any Ddeok was served can be used to describe unreasonable hopes or impatience.

Duck egg in the NakDongGang (NakDong River). (Describing a dangerous situation, and often alone with no proximal help in sight. An egg floating all alone in such a wide river is in danger and alone.)

Even a fish wouldn't get into trouble if it kept its mouth shut.

Even a monk can't shave his own head.

Even a sheet of paper is lighter when two people lift it.

Even children of the same mother look different.

Even honey can taste bitter if it's used as medicine.

Even if the sky falls on you, there is a hole that you can escape from.

Even if you know the way, ask one more time.

Even monkeys may fall from trees.

Even the best song becomes tiresome if heard too often.

Even though words have no wings, they can still fly a thousand miles.

Even if you encounter a stone bridge, tap it first before crossing.

(Having one's) foot struck by a much-trusted axe. (Being betrayed by something one puts much trust in.)

Through old things, we learn new things.

Gather dust to build a mountain.

Give an extra piece of cake to a stepchild.

If a pedestrian sees a horse he will want to ride it.

If there is a rich man in the area three villages are ruined.

If you kick a stone in anger, you’ll hurt your own foot.

If you speak of the tiger, it will come.

If you starve for three days, there is no thought that does not invade your imagination.

If you want a well, only dig in one place.

If you're standing in the hole you're digging, you should stop digging.

It is a bad plowman that quarrels with his ox.

It's darkest underneath the lamp stand. (It is hard to anticipate what is coming, therefore, keep an eye on your own business and take care of the matters closest to you first.)

Man's affairs are evaluated only after his coffin is closed.

Man's extremity, God's opportunity.

Man's mind changes throughout the course of a day.

No sleep, no dream.

One doesn’t know the ㄱ (기역, Giyeok, a Korean character) even when looking at a sickle. (Used to describe dim-witted people, as if they cannot even understand that a sickle looks like the very first letter (ㄱ) of the Korean alphabet.)

One moment is worth more than a thousand gold pieces.

One will get caught if one's tail is too long. (Leaving behind too much traces of yourself will make yourself conspicuous and easily apprehended.)

Power lasts ten years; influence not more than a hundred.

Put off for one day and ten days will pass.

Remember, even monkeys fall out of trees.

Repaying a 1000-Nyang (old Korean currency unit) with one word. (Tact can go far, and may even settle large debts.)

Someone else's rice cake always looks bigger.

Starting is half the task. (A good start is important to any effort.)

Tall branches are apt to be broken.

Tap even a stone bridge before crossing.

The bad calligrapher is choosy about his brushes.

The bad plowman quarrels with his ox.

The bull that is used to the sun shivers by the light of the moon.

The deeper the waters are, the more still they run.

The frog forgets that he was once a tadpole.

The matchmaker gets three cups of wine when he succeeds and three slaps on the cheek when he fails.

The nicest woman is your own; the nicest harvest is your neighbours.

The person who has many faults is usually the first to criticize others.

The person who knows himself and his opponent will be invincible.

Carve a peg only after you have observed the hole.

The thief hates the moon.

There is no winter without snow, no spring without sunshine, and no happiness without companions.

There's a running chump, and above it is a flying chump. (There's always someone better than someone else at something.)

Three years will eradicate even murderous thoughts.

To be prepared is to have no anxiety.

To begin is to be half done.

To show a duck's foot. (To lie.)

To take off one's shichimi. (To lie or feign ignorance. Hunters used to tag their hunting hawks with the names of the owners but hawks tend to bite these tags off, as if to feign ignorance of its possession to its owner.)

Trying to find Suknyung from the well. (In ancient time, Suknyung was a popular beverage sifted from rice where much water from the well is required. Finding Suknyung in the well describes an impatient person who tries to skips necessary procedure, instead of fetching water from the well to make Suknyung, he tries to look for Sukhyung directly from the well.)

Useful trees are cut down first.

Virginity can be lost in one night.

When tigers die, they leave leather behind. When people die, they leave their names behind.

When you have three daughters, you sleep with the door open.

Where there are no tigers, a wild cat is very self-important.

Wise men philosophize as the fools live on.

Woman was born three days earlier than the devil.

Words have no wings but they can fly a thousand miles.

You cannot strike a face that is smiling.

You will hate a beautiful song if you sing it often.


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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      The beast can b caught alive that releases oil.

    • Ingenira profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      thanks, Danwe. I kinda like this one : An empty cart rattles loudly.

    • Danwe profile image


      8 years ago

      Great proverbs :) I really like all the knowledge in such a short statements :) My favorite for today is "A day-old pigeon cannot fly over a mountain pass." Which is yours guys ?

    • Ingenira profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Dusty, haha... you amused me. It is interesting to see how you connect a few proverbs together, producing a thought-provoking picture. Good stuff ! Perhaps you can write a hub on that.

      Thank you for penning down your thoughts. I certainly enjoyed it.

    • 50 Caliber profile image

      50 Caliber 

      8 years ago from Arizona

      Ingenira, a superb collection of proverbs, which I find quite useful in conversations held that are negative in nature, a polite proverb in answer is often a kind yet descriptive note to disembark with to move on to greener pastures of enjoyment. After all, it is said "Better to give than receive". A statement that I feel becomes true in heated conversations that are one sided, where another becomes enraged and the other really doesn't understand the "why". The application of thought of one of your shared proverbs "An empty cart rattles loudly" seems ideal for understanding how one became a target of anothers rage and the simplicity of "A fish wouldn't get into trouble if it kept its mouth shut" an excellent directive to exit on that thought, sans rebuttal, to attempt to come out on top of the rattling cart. The place I find that often gives a resentment, and that is better given than received. I learned a few decades ago that there is much wealth in the knowing of these proverbs that give us understanding and inner peace. A person with a resentment wastes hours of allowing others space in their minds to live rent free as that person moves forward with no thought to a real or often unintended consequence. I have been there, done that, got the T-shirt, now I smile and collect proverbs to my scroll and memory.

      You have provided me 14 to add to my scroll that is made from a tan colored window shade. The type you pull down to cover a window and a short tug it rewinds to the rolled up position. Mounted on the wall with wooden knobs that are ornate and stained. I was surprised at the popularity it has drawn to be pulled out and read.

      I write them with a calligraphy set I bought.

      I see the question of the original script, now I think the roughly 4 inch top space I left would be well served to have the "ABCs" across the top with the origin of many from the original scripts in lines below from Hebrew to Korean, Chinese, Japanese and any other that I find the symbols of letters vs symbols of words. Not being a linguist I'll have to research each to see them and practice reproducing them with a quill.

      Thank you for the fun read and your readers question that gives me a thought to burn some time on. It will be 106 degrees here soon and I'll be staying out of the heat with a addition to a project I started sometime back,



    • Ingenira profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Sorry, Alex. Hubpages do not allow foreign language in the article.

    • profile image

      Alex Lato 

      8 years ago

      Any chance you could put some of these into Korean script..? Would be nice to see them in the Original.

    • Ingenira profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Glad to see you here, fornalina. Thank you for your comment, I really appreciate it. Hope to read some hubs about Korean from you. :)

    • fornalina profile image

      Katarzyna Silny 

      8 years ago from Poznan, Poland

      For me this Hub is quite interesting since I'm studying Korean. It's good to know at least few from this list.

    • Ingenira profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      You're welcome, Ryan.

      God bless Ü too!

    • profile image

      Ryan ",) 

      9 years ago

      Kamsahamnida Ingenira!, those quotes and sayings are really inspiring,

      God bless Ü!!...=)

    • Ingenira profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      Thank you, stars. :)

    • stars439 profile image


      9 years ago from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State.

      Wonderful hub. God Bless You.

    • Ingenira profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      Thailand is definitely a must-visit country, one of the more-affordable ones too. :) Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Slarty O'Brian profile image

      Ron Hooft 

      9 years ago from Ottawa

      Thanks for Hubs on Korean culture. I have always been fascinated with oriental cultures. One place I want to visit someday is Thailand. The pictures I have seen of the landscape thee are some of the most stunning in the world.

    • Ingenira profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      Glad you like it, Jhangora. And welcome to my pages.

    • Jhangora profile image

      Dinesh Mohan Raturi 

      9 years ago from Dehradun

      I like collecting Proverbs. The ones presented here are real cool. Thanx a lot for the share.

    • Ingenira profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      Thanks so much, Katie. :)

    • katiem2 profile image

      Katie McMurray 

      9 years ago from Westerville

      I appreciate this wonderful collection of Ancient Korean Proverbs. These are wise and wonderful words to consider. :) Well Done! :) Katie

    • Ben Zoltak profile image

      Ben Zoltak 

      9 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

      These are great, loved "A fish wouldn't get into trouble if it kept its mouth shut."

      Though I disagree about a monk shaving his own head, I've shaved my own head! It can be done! ;oP


    • Ingenira profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      Thank you, 3cardmonte. Appreciate your vote !

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      That was fascinating! Voted up most definitely!

    • Unleashed Victory profile image

      Unleashed Victory 

      9 years ago

      Ingenira, what a rich post. From wise to funny, I fully intend to share this. I also added it to my favorites because it's definitely a keeper! (Voted up)

    • Ingenira profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      Thank you for your wonderful comment, angInwu. Glad you like some of them. :)

    • anglnwu profile image


      9 years ago

      Such a great collection--they are poignant, funny, thought-provoking and so very true. I found quite a few favorites here, so I'm bookmarking it. I could use them on days when things are looking down. Awesome!

    • Ingenira profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      Thanks so much, Betty, for your comment. :) God bless.

    • Betty Johansen profile image

      Betty Johansen 

      9 years ago

      I think the Koreans are (were?) paranoid about stone bridges. Me, I'm paranoid about online purchases - maybe I could make up a proverb about that.

      I enjoyed these, Ingenira. Some are funny. Many are wise. All are interesting.

    • Ingenira profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      Thanks, Tony.

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 

      9 years ago from South Africa

      BEautiful sayings some of which, as others have mentioned, are universal. But no less interesting for that. As you say, interesting that they occur in Korea also.

      Love and peace


    • Ingenira profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      drbj, do you know, Penang is many Malaysian and foreigners favourite destination. I love to visit the place too - a beautiful and exciting place with excellent food !

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      9 years ago from south Florida

      Thank you, Ingenira. You know, you rock, too. :)

      BTW, I once had the good fortune to visit Kuala Lumpur - and it rocks, too. But you know what I also liked? Penang. What a beautiful place! Hope to return one day.

    • Ingenira profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      Thanks so much, carrie. :)

    • Ingenira profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      drbj, I really like "Popular Proverbs Interpreted"

      you did. It was awesome and full of humour. You rock !

    • carrie450 profile image


      9 years ago from Winnipeg, Canada

      Thanks for this hub Ingenira. Many of these I have never heard.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      9 years ago from south Florida

      Sorry about the mistake in the URL, Ingenira. The correct one is:

      Thanks so much for letting me know and let me know what you think. :)

    • Ingenira profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      Thanks, drbj, for your comment. Yes, I did find some of them similar to Chinese and English commonly used proverbs. It is interesting for me just to know Korean have some similar proverbs as the rest.

      I clicked on your link, but got the message, "No longer published".

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      9 years ago from south Florida

      Ingenira - many of these Korean proverbs are universal but thanks for introducing me to those I have not heard before.

      You might see some of them in a slightly different form on my hub: "Popular Proverbs Interpreted"


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