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Lesson 152: Korean mimetic words (의태어)

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Vocabulary
Introduction

Mimetic Verbs – 의태어
Two-Syllable Mimetic Words
Four Syllable Mimetic Words
Adding ~거리다

 

 

Vocabulary

회 = sushi
범인 = criminal
천장 = ceiling
자국 = mark, impression, stain
윤기 = shine, gloss
깃발 = flag
잡곡 = grains
잡곡밥 = multigrain rice
잔디 = grass, lawn
잔디밭 = lawn
시내 = stream, brook
시냇물 = water from a stream, brook
소나기 = rain shower
두드러기 = skin reaction to food, medicine or something in the environment

Verbs:
피다 = to bloom
풍기다 = to give off a smell or atmosphere
흉내다 = to imitate
구르다 = to roll
지목하다 = to point out, to name a culprit

Adverbs and other words:
갓 = to have just come out, to be freshly made

 

 

Introduction

The purpose of this lesson is to introduce you to trends I have noticed with mimetic words. It is hard to tell you exactly how a mimetic word works in Korean, because there are so many of them, and there are many ways that they can be used. The goal is for you to familiarize yourself with a bunch of mimetic words and how they are used, so that you can apply this knowledge the next time you come across a mimetic word in Korean. Let’s get started!

 

 

Mimetic Verbs – 의태어 – Adding feeling, emphasis and imagery

In the previous lesson, you learned about Korean onomatopoeias. You learned that these adverbs are used to add effect to sentences by mimicking a particular sound. There is another set of Korean adverbs that have a similar function to adding effect to Korean sentences. In this lesson, I will present a massive list of Korean adverbs that are used to provide feeling, emphasis and imagery.

Onomatopoeias attempt to mimic a particular sound. Mimetic words attempt to mimic a particular motion or feeling to give the listener/reader more imagery. Imagine you want to say that you got out of bed in the morning and left your house. No problem:

아침에 일어나가 밖에 나갔어요 = I woke/got up in the morning and went outside

There is an adverb that can be used in this specific situation. The word 벌떡 is used specifically when one gets or wakes up quickly. As if one springs out of bed. Using 벌떡 doesn’t really change the meaning of the sentence, but it adds a bit of feeling, emphasis and imagery:

아침에 벌떡 일어나가 밖에 나갔어요 = I sprung out of bed in the morning and went outside

When I hear the word 벌떡 I literally imagine someone bouncing up from a prone position.

The Korean language is fascinating in so many ways. One of the ways that it fascinates me is that there are specific adverbs, like 벌떡, for practically any type of movement to add emphasis, feeling and imagery to it.

How specific? Very specific, actually. There is, for example, an adverb that adds feeling, emphasis and imagery to the situation of wrapping something up. For example:

저는 붕대를 손에 감았다 = I wrapped a bandage around my hand

You can add emphasis to this by using the adverb 칭칭. For example:

저는 붕대를 손에 칭칭 감았다 = I wrapped a bandage around my hand

When I hear the word 칭칭 I literally imagine something wrapping around and around an object.

These types of words are called 의태어 in Korean. In English they are called mimetic words, but I don’t think that term is very helpful to an English speaker because we don’t quite have the same phenomenon in English. Indeed, English speakers probably don’t even know what mimetic words are. The only reason I am aware of them is because I learned Korean!

English speakers are probably more familiar with onomatopoeias, which I discussed in the previous lesson. The pronunciation of an onomatopoeia represents the sound of situation. Examples of English onomatopoeias are words like buzz or boom. Mimetic words are similar, but they don’t represent the sound of a situation, they represent the motion or feeling of a situation.

I have introduced a few mimetic words to you in previous lessons.

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In Lesson 60, you learned how 가득 is used in sentences where something is filled:
시험결과를 보고 저는 기쁨으로 가득 찼어요
= After looking at the exam results, I was full of joy

In Lesson 69, you learned how 싹 is used in sentences where something is removed:
쓰레기가 많아서 방을 싹 청소할 수밖에 없어요
= I have no choice but to completely clean the room because it is so dirty

In Lesson 72, you learned how 깜짝 is used in sentences where somebody is surprised:
길에서 넘어질 만큼 깜짝 놀랐어요
= I was so surprised that I could have fallen

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I’ve compiled a list of many Korean mimetic words. In each case, I will provide the adverb, the situation it is used in, the verb it is most commonly used with (if applicable) and an example sentence. I’ve separated it into two sections:

Mimetic words with two syllables where one syllable is repeated
Mimetic words with four syllables, where two syllables are repeated

These lists are by no means exhaustive. What I hope is that by looking at the examples I provide, you will not only learn a lot of the common mimetic words, but you will also be able to detect and understand a mimetic word when you come across one in the future.

 

 

Mimetic words with two syllables where one syllable is repeated

These words are made up of one syllable that gets repeated. The syllable is usually a strange one, in the sense that you don’t really see them commonly in the Korean language.  Look at the first example below. “엉” is not a syllable you see very often in Korean. The pronunciation of the repeated syllable sounds funny to my ear, and probably why it elicits a feeling or imagery when spoken.

엉엉 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for somebody crying
Commonly used with 울다
그 영화를 보고 너무 슬퍼서 엉엉 울었어요
= I watched that movie and, because it was so sad, I cried my eyes out

졸졸 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for water coming out of something slowly
Commonly used with 새다 or 흐르다
비가 많이 오자 천장에서 물이 졸졸 새기 시작했어요
= It rained a lot and then water started leaking from the ceiling slowly

뻘뻘 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for somebody s­weating
Commonly used with 땀이 흘리다
우리 아빠는 아주 더운 곳에서 땀을 뻘뻘 흘리며 일해요
= Our dad works in a hot place where sweat pours from him

꼭꼭 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery to doing something over and over with a lot of might
Commonly used with 씹다, 주무르다
잡곡밥을 먹을 때 꼭꼭 씹어요
= When you eat multigrain rice, make sure you chew thoroughly

I hear this type of sentence way too often. It’s common for Korean moms to tell their kids to chew their food “well.” This often means that grandmas like to tell grown adults to chew their food “well.” I can’t tell you how many times my mother-in-law has told me, a grown man, to chew my food well.

철철 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for water, blood or energy flowing
Commonly used with 피를 흐리다
칼에 손을 깊게 베어서 피가 철철 나기 시작했어요
= I cut my hand with a knife deeply and blood started to pour out

낄낄 = adverb to feel, emphasis and imagery for somebody snickering
Commonly used with 웃다
친구들이 내가 동물 흉내를 내는 것을 보고 낄낄 웃었어요
= My friend saw me imitate an animal and snickered away

빙빙 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for one going around something
Commonly used with 돌다
운전을 하다 길을 잃어서 같은 길을 빙빙 돌아서 목적지에 도착했어요
= While driving I got lost so I had to go back on the same road and then arrived at my destination

벅벅 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for somebody scratching
Commonly used with 긁다
모기에 물린 자국을 벅벅 긁었어요
= I scratched the mosquito bite hard

콕콕 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for somebody having a needle like pain
Commonly used with 아프다
초밥을 먹고 배가 콕콕 아프기 시작해서 병원에 갔어요
= After having sushi, my stomach started aching so I went to the hospital

펑펑 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for using an item frivolously
Commonly used with 쓰다
그 남자는 복권에 당첨되자마자 돈을 펑펑 쓰기 시작했어요
= As soon as that man won the lottery, he splurged it all right away

꽁꽁 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for something being frozen
Commonly used with 얼다
어제 저녁에 하루 종일 눈이 오고 기온이 떨어져서 도로가 꽁꽁 얼었어요
= It snowed all day yesterday evening and then the temperature fell so the road froze over

텅텅 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery to something being empty
Commonly used with 비다
배가 고파 냉장고를 열었는데 냉장고가 텅텅 비어 있었어요
= I was hungry so I opened the fridge, but it was completely empty

 

 

Mimetic words with four syllables, where two syllables are repeated

These words are made up of two syllables that gets repeated once to create a four syllable word. I have separated this section into three parts:

1) Four syllable mimetic words that have a two-syllable equivalent

  • These words can be used as a non-repeated two syllable word or a repeated two syllable word. For example, the first word in this section 펄럭펄럭 can also be used as 펄럭. Repeating the two syllables to create the four syllable word emphasizes the feeling a bit more, or gives the feeling that something was really rocking, shaking, fluttering, moving, rustling, etc.

 

2) Four syllable mimetic words that do not have a two-syllable equivalent

  • These words can only be used as a four syllable word. The two syllable equivalent does not exist as a word. For example, the first word in this section 모락모락 cannot be used just as 모락.

 

3) Four syllable mimetic words where the second two syllables are similar, but different than the first two syllables

  • These words are usually about something going back and forth or changing in some way. For example, 락 is a mimetic word that gives emphasis, feeling and imagery to situations where somebody comes and goes.

 

1) Four syllable words that have a two-syllable equivalent

펄럭펄럭 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for something fluttering
No common word, but commonly used in situations where wind is blowing
깃발이 바람에 펄럭펄럭 움직였어요
= The flag fluttered in the wind

살랑살랑 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for something rustling, fluttering or wagging
Commonly used with 흔들다
강아지는 저를 보자마자 꼬리를 살랑살랑 흔들었어요
= When that puppy sees me his tail wags back and forth

꾸벅꾸벅 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for somebody dosing off
Commonly used with 졸다
전철에서 책을 읽으면서 꾸벅꾸벅 졸았어요
= I dosed off on the subway while reading a book

털썩털썩 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for something plopping/flopping
Commonly used with 앉다
잔디밭이 보이자마자 너무 피곤해서 털썩털썩 주저앉았다
= I was so tired, so as soon as I could see the grass I plopped right down

데굴데굴 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for somebody rolling
Commonly used with 구르다
저녁에 회를 먹고 나서 갑자기 식은땀이 나면서 배가 아파서 데굴데굴 굴렀다
= I ate sushi in the evening and all of a sudden, a had the cold sweats and my stomach was sore so I was rolling on the ground

꿀꺽꿀꺽 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for somebody gulping
Commonly used with 삼키다
오늘 날이 너무 더워서 시원한 커피를 사자마자 꿀꺽꿀꺽 마셨어요
= Today was so hot so I bought an iced coffee and gulped it down right away

쭈뼛쭈뼛 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for somebody being nervous
쭈뼛쭈뼛 서 있는 학생을 보고 저는 무슨 일로 교무실에 왔는지 물었어요
= I saw the student standing there nervously and then I asked him why he came to the office

부쩍부쩍 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for something getting bigger
Commonly used with 크다
요즘 들어 우리 아기가 부쩍부쩍 크고 있는 게 보여서 매우 행복해요
= These days seeing our baby getting bigger and bigger makes me so happy

펄쩍펄쩍 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for somebody running
Commonly used with 뛰다
제가 범인으로 그 남자를 지목하자 그 남자는 아니라면서 펄쩍펄쩍 뛰었어요
= I pointed that man as the criminal and that man said it wasn’t him and then ran away

꼬박꼬박 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for somebody keeping a routine
저는 아침밥을 꼬박꼬박 챙겨 먹어요
= I make sure to eat breakfast everyday

성큼성큼 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for somebody approaching
Commonly used with 다가오다
나무에 핀 꽃을 보니 봄이 성큼성큼 다가왔음을 느꼈어요
= When I see the blooming flowers on the tree I feel spring approaching

차근차근 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for doing something step-by-step
차근차근 이 문제를 풀고 답을 알면 손을 들어주세요
= Solve this problem step-by-step and then if you know the answer, raise your hand

팔랑팔랑 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for something fluttering
Commonly used with 날다
나비가 팔랑팔랑 날갯짓을 하며 하늘을 날아다녀요
= The butterfly fluttered his wings as it flew in the sky

휘청휘청= adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for something swaying or wobbling
앞에 걷고 있는 사람이 자꾸 휘청휘청 걸어서 넘어질까 봐 걱정됐어요
= The person walking in front of us keeps wobbling back and forth so I was worried he would fall

생글생글 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for somebody smiling
Commonly used with 웃다
그 여자의 생글생글 웃는 모습은 세상에서 제일 아름다워요
= The look of that girl smiling is the cutest thing in the world

바삭바삭 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for something being crispy
이 튀김은 바삭바삭 맛있어요
= This fried food is crispy and delicious

물씬물씬 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for a smell or atmosphere to be strong
Commonly used with 풍기다
이 카페에 오면 가을 분위기가 물씬물씬 풍겨서 올 때마다 책을 읽고 싶어져요
= When I come to the cafe I feel the atmosphere of fall every time so I want to read books

흠뻑흠뻑 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for something being really wet
Commonly used with 젖다
갑자기 소나기가 내려서 옷이 흠뻑흠뻑 젖었어요
= All of a sudden there was a shower so my clothes got all wet

 

 

2) Four syllable mimetic words that do not have a two-syllable equivalent

모락모락 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for something being piping hot
Commonly used with 김이 나다
김이 모락모락 나는 만두를 바로 먹으면 입 안을 델 수도 있어요
= You can burn your mouth if you eat dumplings when they are piping hot with steam

터덜터덜 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for somebody trudging through something
Commonly used with 걷다
오늘 돈을 한 푼도 벌지 못한 남자는 터덜터덜 걸어서 집에 갔어요
= The man, who didn’t earn a single dime today, trudged along home

반들반들 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for something smooth and glossy
좋은 쌀로 갓 지은 밥은 반들반들 윤기가 나요
= Rice made from good grains has a glass to it

끈적끈적 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for something being sticky
더운 날 운동을 하니 땀이 많이 나면서 몸이 끈적끈적 해져서 집에 도착하자마자 샤워를 했어요
= I exercised on such a hot day and was all sweaty and sticky, so as soon as I arrived home I had a shower

부들부들 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for something shaking
Commonly used with 떨다
그 사람이 저를 배신했다는 생각에 몸이 부들부들 떨렸어요
= My body was shaking at the thought of that person betraying me

스멀스멀 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for somebody being itchy or antsy
오래된 이불을 덮고 잤더니 왠지 몸에서 스멀스멀 벌레가 기어 다니는 것 같았다
= After sleeping with an old blanket, for some reason my body feels like I’ve got bugs crawling around it

가물가물 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for something (including memory) flickering
Commonly used with 기억하다
옛 기억을 떠오려 보려고 했지만 오래 전 일이라 가물가물 해서 기억나지 않았어요
= When trying to think of my old memories, it was so long ago that I couldn’t remember (it was only flickering)

엉금엉금 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for somebody crawling
Commonly used with 기다
우리 딸은 6개월이 되자 엉금엉금 기어 다니기 시작했어요
= When our daughter turned six-months old she started crawling

미적미적 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for doing something slowly
제 남동생은 항상 외출 준비를 할 때 미적미적 준비해서 엄마한테 혼나요
= Whenever my younger brother gets ready to go out, he always does so slowly so he gets scolded by my mom

꼬물꼬물 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for something squirming
Commonly used with 움직이다
뱃속에서 아이가 꼬물꼬물 움직일 때마다 임신한 것을 실감이 나요
= Every time the baby squirms in my stomach I really feel as if I am pregnant

갈기갈기 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for something being ripped into pieces
Commonly used with 찢다
그 남자는 전 여자친구에게서 받은 편지를 갈기갈기 찢어버렸어요
= That man ripped up the letter he got from his ex-girlfriend

절레절레 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for something rocking from side to side
Commonly used with 흔들다
제가 다시 학교에 가서 공부를 하고 싶으냐고 묻자 친구는 절레절레 고개를 흔들었다
= I asked if he wanted to go back to school to study and my friend shook his head from side to side

더듬더듬 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for somebody stuttering
사람들은 가끔씩 너무 긴장하면 더듬더듬 말게 돼요
= When people get nervous they end up stuttering

 

 

Four syllable mimetic words where the second two syllables are similar, but different than the first two syllables

알록달록 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for something being colored in many ways
색깔이 알록달록 할수록 어린 아이들이 좋아해요
= The more colorful something is, the more kids will like it

오락가락 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for something going back and forth
하필 자고 일어나서 정신이 오락가락 하는데 회사에서 전화가 와서 당황했다
I woke up and my mind was in-and-out, and of all times my company called so I was embarrassed

 

 

Adding ~거리다

In Lesson 34, you learned about ~거리다 and how it suggests that an action occurs repeatedly. In that lesson, I also mentioned that ~거리다 is used on words that have “feeling.” Now that we are in Lesson 152, you know what this feeling is. It is the 의태어 feeling – the feeling of giving imagery, emphasis and feeling to situations.

~거리다 can be added to most, but not all, mimetic words to turn the mimetic word into a verb. Of all the 의태어 introduced in this lesson, only the following do not have a ~거리다 form:

철철
성큼성큼
갈기갈기
절레절레
흠뻑흠뻑

When the mimetic word is the two-syllable variety, ~거리다 is usually added to the two syllable word. For example:

You’ll see that sometimes the ~거리다 version or the mimetic verb is the final verb of the sentence, where the verb is essentially the action-form of the feeling of the adverb. However, as you’ll see, the most common way that the ~거리다 version of mimetic words are used is to attach ~(으)면서 or ~(으)며 to it, and then place the commonly used verb after it. In this way, it’s almost the same as just using the non ~거리다 form.

그 영화가 너무 슬퍼서 보는 내내 엉엉거리면서 울었어요
= That movie was really sad so the entire time I was watching it

저는 시냇물이 졸졸거리며 흐르는 소리를 듣는 것을 좋아해요
= I like listening to the sound of a stream flowing

주말 내내 뻘뻘거리며 돌아다녔더니 몸살이 났어요
= I was busily going around all weekend that now my body is sore

친구들이 제 바지에 뭔가 묻은 것을 보고 낄낄거렸어요
= My friends saw something stained on my pants and laughed

음식을 잘 못 먹고 두드러기가 생겨서 밤새 몸을 벅벅거리면서 긁었어요
= I ate the wrong thing and some sport showed up so I was scratching my body all night

When the mimetic word is the four-syllable variety, ~거리다 is usually added to the two syllable (non-repeated) version of the word. For example:

저는 잔디밭에 털썩거리며 앉았어요
= I plopped down on the grass

그 남자는 술을 마시고 휘청거리면서 길을 건넜어요
= That man drank alcohol and then stumbled across the street

그 직원은 생글거리면서 항상 손님들에게 인사해요
= That worker always smile when he greats customers

저는 너무 화가 나서 몸이 부들거렸어요
= I was so mad that my body was shaking

술을 바닥에 쏟아서 바닥이 끈적거려요
= I spilled alcohol all over the floor and now the floor is sticky

걸레로 바닥을 열심히 닦아서 바닥이 반들거려요
= I wiped the floor really hard with a rag and now the floor is all shiny

목이 너무 말라서 물을 꿀꺽거리면서 급하게 마셨어요
= I was so thirsty that I urgently gulped down water

많은 학생들이 잠에 취해 꾸벅거리면서 수업을 들었어요
= A lot of students dose off in class because they’re so tired

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As I said at the beginning of this lesson, the purpose of this lesson is to show you trends. There are no general rules in this lesson. A perfect example of that is not all mimetic words are one-syllable repeated words or two-syllable repeated words. For example, some mimetic words don’t follow any of the rules I have discussed:

부르르 = adverb to add feel, emphasis and imagery for somebody shivering
Commonly used with 몸을 떨다
강아지는 소변을 보고 나서 몸을 부르르 떨었어요
= The puppy peed and his body was shaking

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I hope this lesson enlightened you. That’s it!