Korean is unique. Even before the Korean alphabet was invented in 1443, Korean people have been speaking Korean for thousands of years. And some native words have survived through millennia.
Today we are going to learn ten native words--beautiful Korean words--which were created far before the Korean alphabet was invented.
하늘 [Ha-neul] : sky
The native Korean word 하늘 means “sky.” Ancient Koreans believed that a god descended to the Korean peninsula and married a woman, who was a bear and became human as she wanted. People thought it was the beginning of the first Korean kingdom.
비 [bi] : rain
The native Korean word 비 means “rain.” Ancient Koreans used tens of words to indicate different types of rains. The following two words are the most beautiful native Korean words to indicate two different types of rain.
여우비 [yeo-u-bi] : rain on a clear day
The literal meaning of 여우비 is “fox rain,” and it means “rain on a clear day.” People say it rains on a clear day because a cloud sobs, missing his beloved fox. Some people also say it is because the fox with nine tails, the mythical creature in Korean lore, cries.
이슬비 [I-seul-bi] : drizzle
“이슬 [I-seul]” means “dew,” and “비 [Bi]” means “rain.” 이슬비 indicates “drizzle,” a little rain falling like a dew.
고양이 [go-yang-i] : cat
The native Korean word 고양이 means “cat.” While cats became one of the most popular pets in Korea, they might not be that popular in the past, seeing there is no native word for “kitty.”
For many common animals, Koreans use different terms to indicate their babies. The following words are examples.
강아지 [Gang-a-ji] : puppy
강아지 refers to a baby of “개 (dog).”
병아리 [byeong-a-ri] : chick
병아리 refers to a baby of “닭 (chicken).”
송아지 [song-a-ji] : calf
송아지 refers to a baby of “소 (cow).”
망아지 [mang-a-ji] : foal
“망아지" refers to a baby of “말 (horse).”
가람 [ga-ram] : river
가람 is a beautiful native word to indicate “river.” As most of the civilizations started near rivers, the first Korean kingdom was also born near the Han River, the main river in Korea.
During the three Kingdoms era, three nations fought each other to take the Han River area. And each nation had their golden ages when they secured the Han river area. Now the Han river flows through Seoul, the capital city of Korea.
Although Koreans use the word “강 [gang]” instead of 가람 these days, 가람 remains a beautiful native Korean word. It is also used as a name for a man or a woman.
바다 [ba-da] : ocean
바다 is a native Korean word to indicate “ocean,” and it is still widely used today. Ocean has always played a significant role in the Korean economy.
In the “고려 [ko-ryeo]” dynasty, Koreans used to trade goods with other countries, including Arabic nations. It was when the world started to call 고려 “Korea.”
Now Korea is the 8th largest exporting country, delivering goods and services to the world through the ocean.
미르 [mi-reu] = dragon
미르 is a native Korean word to indicate “dragon,” the legendary animal in Asian lore. Asian people believed that a snake becomes a dragon if it lives for a thousand years. While western dragons had evil images, Asian dragons were considered as holy animals. For many Korean kings, dragons were symbols for royalty.
나르샤 [na-reu-sha] = to fly
The word 나르샤 is beautiful. The most impressive thing is that 나르샤 is the first native Korean word written in the Korean alphabet. The great king “세종 [Se-jong]” invented the Korean alphabet and published the first book written in Korean in 1443.
The first sentence says, “육룡이 나르샤,” which means “six dragons fly.”
나래 [na-rae] = wing
나래 is a beautiful native word to indicate “wing.” It is also a popular female name. Today we use the word "날개 [Nal-gae]” instead of 나래 more often.
However, 나래 is still used in figurative expressions such as “상상의 나래를 펴다,” which means “spreading wings of imagination (wild imagination).”
누리 [nu-ri] = world
누리 is a native Korean word to indicate “world.” It is also a name for a man and a woman. Koreans say “온 누리 [On nu-ri],” meaning “the entire world.”
Korean kingdoms had been relatively closed to the world for hundreds of years. However, Korea is now actively engaging in the world economy and society, actively exchanging ideas and cultures with other countries.
나라 [na-ra] : nation
The native Korean word 나라 means “nation.” Although the Chinese character “국 (國)” is more widely used now, Koreans still use this word when they say “우리 나라 (our nation).” As this word sounds beautiful, 나라 has been a popular female name for decades.
We learned the ten most beautiful native Korean words. The most beautiful thing is not their sounds. It is that these words survived through millennia, and you just learned them today.
It is fantastic that through learning a language, you can understand people and the culture of a country as well. So, why don’t you explain the meaning of your native words to Korean friends next time?