My goal to learn something new every day
I’ll readily admit that my Korean is not that good. I couldn’t have a conversation in Korean for example. However, like most second language learners, my passive ability is better than my active ability. I find this very useful in class when students, either intentionally or under their breath, use a Korean word and I am able to give them the English equivalent. I wrote briefly about some thoughts on using L1 (especially from a non-Korean speaker’s perspective) in this post on Day 31. Incidentally, the TEFLology podcast guys mentioned their experiences of trying to use Japanese in their classroom on their latest podcast, which I highly recommend you go and check out.
Of course, there are still plenty of words I don’t know, that often crop up and at the time I wish I did know what they were in English. One such occasion happened today during a conversation with a group of students. One student, a female university student, was talking about her plans to go and see the ‘stars’ at an observatory on the weekend with her boyfriend who had a few days of leave from the military. She was trying to describe one of the planets (although she kept calling it a star) that is particularly bright in the sky at the moment, but simply had no idea what the name of the planet was in English. Neither did any of the other students at the table, even the more advanced ones. She gave the word in Korean, but nobody knew. At this point I’ll admit that I had a pretty good inkling that she was referring to Jupiter, but that’s more because I know that Jupiter is visible in the Northern Hemisphere at the moment, rather that understanding the Korean word. It’s not the first time either that the topic of the Solar System has come up, and there’s been a bit of a breakdown in communication because students were not sure of the English name of the planets, and I was not sure of the Korean name. Each time, I promised myself that I would learn the Korean to prevent such a situation happening again, but never got around to it. Sure, it’s pretty easy to count the planets from the Sun and then figure out which one the students are referring to, but that’s not very elegant, and it doesn’t have the added bonus of seeing the students’ reactions when they realise I can understand some of what they’re saying.
So, in this post, I look at the Korean names for the planets, as well as their meanings in Korean. In addition, I’ll look at the English meanings as well while I’m at it.
As with a lot of Korean vocabulary, the names of the planets in Korean come from Chinese, and therefore, while words for the planets are similar in many European languages, they sound completely different between Korean and English. However, as I found out today, the meanings are often the same or connected.
With the exception of Earth, the final syllable of all of the other planets is 성, which means star. This probably explains why my student was calling it a star and not a planet earlier today. It also goes some way to explaining why, when I showed my wife this video, she was not as surprised as me at the presenters completed stupidity (although she did get that the moon was NOT a planet, she wasn’t too sure about the difference, linguistically, between a star and a planet and kept telling me that the planets were called stars).
Incidentally the meaning of 성 (seong) is the same as is found in the second syllable of Samsung (although with an alternative English transliteration)—Samsung literally translates into English as “three star”.
Mercury is 수성 (suseong) in Korean. 수 (su) comes from the Chinese word for water. So the Korean meaning is “Star of Water”.
In English, Mercury is named after the Roman god associated with speed.
Venus is 금성 (geumseong). 금 (geum) means gold so the Korean meaning of Venus is “Star of Gold”.
In English, Venus is named after the Roman god of love. While the two meanings may not appear to be connected, there is an association.
In English, we call the day before Saturday Friday. This comes from Old English Frīġedæġ, which means the “day of Frigg”. The Old English goddess Frigg was associated with the Roman goddess Venus in interpretatio germanica. Interpretatio germanica is, according to Wikipedia, “the practice by the Germanic peoples of identifying Roman gods with the names of Germanic deities.”
In Korean, Friday is 금요일(geumyoil), where the first syllable, 금 (geum) is the same as it is in the Korean word for Venus. According to Wiktionary, the Korean word for Friday comes “from Latin dies Veneris (“day of Venus”), through Indian astrology in the fifth century as Sanskrit bhṝguvāra (bhṝgu, “of the planet Venus”) into Buddhist astrology in the eighth century as 金曜日 (金, “gold”, the Buddhist element associated with the planet Venus).”
The Korean word for Earth is 지구 (jigu). 지 (ji) means ground and 구 (gu) means ball.
The English word and Korean word share a similar meaning. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary:
Old English eorþe “ground, soil, dirt, dry land; country, district,” also used (along with middangeard) for “the (material) world, the abode of man” (as opposed to the heavens or the underworld), from Proto-Germanic *ertho (cognates: Old Frisian erthe “earth,” Old Saxon ertha, Old Norse jörð, Middle Dutch eerde, Dutch aarde, Old High German erda, German Erde, Gothic airþa), from extended form of PIE root *er- (2) “earth, ground” (cognates: Middle Irish -ert “earth”). The earth considered as a planet was so called from c.1400. Use in old chemistry is from 1728. Earth-mover “large digging machine” is from 1940.
The Korean word for Mars is 화성 (hwaseong). 화 (hwa) means fire. In Korean, Mars means the “Star of Fire”.
In English, Mars gets its name from the Roman god of war.
Once again, the meanings for Mars in English and Korean are connected just like with Venus. And once again, we can see the connection through the days of the week. This time, we look at the second day of the week, Tuesday. In English, Tuesday comes from the Old English Tiwesdæg. It means Tiw’s day. In Norse mythology, Tiw was the god of single combat and in the interpretatio germanica is equated with the Roman god Mars.
In Korean, the word for Tuesday is 화요일 (hwayoil), where again, the first syllable of the planet is the same as the first syllable for the day. Once again, the name for the day comes through Indian astrology in the fifth century into Buddhist astrology in the eighth century, more on that over on the Wiktionary entry.
Jupiter is 목성 (mokseong) in Korean. 목 (mok) means wood, so the meaning of Jupiter is “Star of Wood” in Korean.
In English, Jupiter is named after the Roman god, also known as Jove, who was the supreme deity of the ancient Romans—the equivalent of Zeus in Greek mythology. Jupiter was the god of the heavens and the weather.
Thursday is named after the Roman god of Jupiter in many Romance languages. In English, it comes from the Old English Þunresdæg meaning Thunor’s Day. Today, we know it better as Thor’s Day. Thor is equated to the Roman god Jupiter in the interpretatio germanica.
In Korean, we see the same with the name for Thursday, which is 목요일 (mokyoil).
토성 (toseong) is the Korean word for Saturn. 토 means earth (as in dirt), which gives the meaning “Star of Soil”.
In English, Saturn is named after the Roman god of agriculture. This time it doesn’t take much to see the connection between the planet and the day of the week.
In Korean, Saturday is 토요일 (toyoil).
Uranus is 천왕성 (cheonwangseong) in Korean. It’s the first planet that we encounter with three syllables. 천 (cheon) means sky and 왕 (wang) means King. The name means the “Star of the King of Heaven”.
In English, the planet is named for the Greek god of heaven. Because it is so far away from Earth, it was only discovered in 1781, which is why the Romans didn’t have a name for it.
You can see, therefore, how the meanings of the names in Korean and English are the same.
The Korean word for Neptune is 해왕성 (haewangseong). 해 (hae) means sea. 왕 (wang) has the same meaning of the middle syllable in Uranus of king. The meaning of Neptune in Korean is “Star of the King of the Sea”.
In English, we see a similar meaning as the Korean with Neptune, which is named after the Roman god of the sea.
And last but not least, we come to Pluto. Whether you believe it’s a planet or not, it’s included here. The Korean word for Pluto is 명왕성 (myeongwangseong). 명 (myeong) means dark, and 왕 (wang), once again, is king, as it is for Uranus and Neptune above. The name means “Star of the King of Darkness” or as the planetary linguistics page (archived) suggests “Star of the King of Hell”.
In English, Pluto was named after the god of the Underworld. Pluto was discovered relatively recently in 1930, and it’s name was in fact suggested by an 11-year-old girl from England. You can read more about her here.
According to Wikipedia:
Most languages use the name “Pluto” in various transliterations. In Japanese, Houei Nojiri suggested the translation Meiōsei (冥王星, “Star of the King(God) of the Underworld”), and this was borrowed into Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese.
I hope that by learning more about the meanings of the names of the planets, and seeing the connection between English and Korean, I’ll be able to better remember the Korean names.