Whenever I use the Korean word ‘dong-sa’ (동사 – verb) in classes, kids will have a little giggle. Neither does it matter how softly I pronounce the ‘d’ and even almost annihilating it altogether, and saying ‘ong-sa,’ will be met with laughter. Well, my Korean is crap but adults don’t have a problem understanding it.
‘Shit’ is funny for Koreans probably because they’ve never had to smell it, but if you’re British you will undoubtedly recall numerous occasions when you’ve seen something strange on the carpet or on your shoe and like an idiot you’ve poked your finger in it, sniffed it, and then recoiled in horror.
For Koreans, stories and cartoons in which shit is either a central feature or a passing reference, are common. And because they haven’t had to sniff it as much as us Brits, because our pavements are notorious for being strewn in dog shit, it can even be cute and even pretty. There is a popular Korean book (강아지 똥) about the life and adventures of a sentient turd which ends up sprouting a little dandelion flower out of its head.
And then there are the various references to shit: ‘shit flies’ (ddong-bari -똥 파리), chicken’s gizzards amusingly called a ‘dong-chip’ (똥집 – basically ‘shit-hole), as well as the habit kids have of poking their clasped fingers up your backside in a ‘ddong-ch’im’ (똥침 – a ‘shit injection/needle’).
Only yesterday, I was asked what ‘ddong-ch’im’ was in English. ‘Perverted,’ I replied. I had to explain how strange we find the ‘dong-ch’im’ habit and while many waygukins will see it as cute, amusing, and harmless, myself included, I read two posts yesterday, where the authors, men of course, claimed they would ‘severely damage’ any kid who touched ‘that area.’ For western men, especially British and Americans, ‘that area’ is a powder keg of sensitivity and touching it likely to ignite all sorts of problems. It’s all silly of course, and culturally constructed! The male fear of their bottoms being touched and their over-protective attitudes towards them, are as ridiculous as women fearing spiders or mice. Get, real! You have to have a very insecure image of your own sexuality to find a little kiddy touching the back of your trousers, a threat! You can’t translate ‘dong-ch’im’ into English, not effectively, – ‘bum sting,’ ‘butt-stab,’ ‘anal-poke..;’ none of them really work and as they all carry sexual connotations, ‘ddong-injection’ or simply ‘dong-ch’im’ are probably the most effective renditions.
As for associating food with anal passages, nothing is more likely to put me off. Cat shit, dog shit, I’ve smelt them all and any food which reminds me of that filthy orifice is unwelcome. I’ll only eat mak-chang ( 막창 – barbecued intestines) if I’m pissed as colonic conduits aren’t my thing unless severely minced, mashed and renamed a sausage. I’m even put off the idea of chicken feet (닭발) because they spend all day tramping on shite. Conversely however, I love sucking the juicy fat off of an English chicken’s ass, after it’s been plucked, basted and roasted, of course! This exception exists because the name, ‘parson’s nose,’ isn’t a reminder of its actual location or function. A Parson’s nose, the very point at which poop is birthed, is almost respectable and reminds me of Sunday afternoons as a child when being offered that fatty morsel for lunch, was a treat. Tastes are all socially constructed!
While Koreans will tolerate ‘ddong’ and its various manifestations, the don’t like piss. They call piss, ‘dirty water,’ though I don’t particularly find it dirty. I’d much rather be pissed over than shat on, if forced into making a choice, and if ever I was shat on, being pissed over afterwards would be positively refreshing by comparison.
I have three different student dictionaries and all of them of them contain drawings of the human anatomy. They quite interest me as in all three dictionaries, plus a similar poster on the wall of a classroom in my school, the bodies are androgynous. Shortly below the belly button, biology ceases and anything happening in this area does so by some assumed, magical process. In three of the four examples, the poop shoot continues down until it meets the world which is fairly important as the poop shoot is the source of so much Korean humour, but other than this, all other tubing and their associated mechanics, urinary and reproductive, have been censored.
And while the drawings have all been denuded of rude bits and the dictionaries purged of anything sensitive, so as to limit speculation, analysis, discussion and questioning, there are instead a numbers of words English speakers rarely, if ever, use. I often have occasions to use words associated with reproduction and urination, as most English speakers will, but I have never used the word ‘scurf’, ‘ordure,’ ‘nose wax,’ or ‘eye wax.’ An understanding of what ‘wax’ is, is clearly missing when the translator defines ‘sleep,’ as ‘eye-wax.’ Indeed, ‘scurf’ and ‘ordure,’ I had to look-up in a dictionary as they are uncommon to me. I’m not even sure, without further consultation, how you would use ‘ordure.’ My ordure was tumultuous, perhaps? I need to ordurate? Whatever, I clearly like the word!
© Nick Elwood 2010. This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Licence.