My goal to learn something new every day
It’s been a bit of a miserable day today, weather wise. When I woke up, it was raining and trying to snow, although the rain seemed to be winning. I had a one-to-one lesson around lunch time, and the student told me that Koreans use the expression a fox’s wedding day to describe this type of weather. It was actually the second time she’d told me this, because the last time it was raining she’d used the same expression. I’d never heard it before, but today, I decided to try to find what it means.
A quick Google search reveals that there are numerous references to a fox’s wedding online related to the weather. As it turns out the idea of a fox’s wedding is not unique to Korean, and many languages have a similar expression. It looks to me as if the phrase is used to describe a sunshower—when the weather is raining while it’s sunny at the same time. However, this causes some confusion for me because today the sun was nowhere to be seen. It was just raining. Like a regular miserable day.
The Wikipedia page for sunshower lists a number of different expressions, in English, from various languages that refer to animals, such as foxes, wolves, jackals and so on. The expressions usually come from folk tales, and revolve around the theme of a clever animal tricking someone to get married. Unfortunately, there don’t seem to be many original sources to fact check.
In 1998, a linguist posed the question on LINGUIST List, asking people from around the world to provide examples of different expressions for sunshower in different languages. The linguist was Bert Vaux, an assistant professor at Harvard University. Vaux received an “overwhelming” number of replies, and collated them to post back up on LINGUIST List. You can see the responses he received here.
For the Korean entries, there were four:
Korean 1. horangi-ka changga-ga-n-ta 'a (male) tiger is getting married' (Hyoung-youb Kim; Chungmin Lee; Grace Moon) 2. 'tiger rain' (Grace Moon; Chungmin Lee) 3. yewu pi OR yeo-u-bi 'fox rain' (Benjamin Barrett, Shin Ja Hwang) 4. haega nan nal cham-kkan-sshik ppu-ri-neunbi 'weather rain' (Benjamin Barrett)
Searching Google for the first expression, 호랑이 장가가는 날 (horangi janggaga neun nal, which is my transliteration of the first item) meaning “a tiger is getting married”, I found a handful of blogs, written in English about the phenomenon. There’s this post, from a few months ago, in which the author translates the expression more comprehensively as “The tiger groom and fox bride must be getting married today.” While the expression is not the focus of the entire post, the author does say this about the meaning:
I wanted to know more about that [the expression] so I asked my mom via our Skype session […]. She guessed that it must mean that it is both a hilarious and unlikely event so you laugh AND cry at once, like the rain and sun at once? I guessed that it means a bright, sunny, rainy day is as likely as a tiger marrying a fox. Just a super-colorful and eccentric metaphor, confirming that if I could come back as any ethnicity, I would choose Korean all over again.
Then I also found this one, from 2009, which describes how a female fox loved a male tiger, but the male tiger didn’t know so he married someone else. The female fox, upset at this, started crying, which is what the rain symbolizes. The blog also says that another name for a sunshower is 여우비 (yeo-woo bi), which translates directly as ‘fox rain’, and is number three from the LINGUIST List article. This sounds closer to the one that my student mentioned. When I asked my wife about it, she also came up with 여우비 (yeo-woo bi) and confirmed that she would only use it on a day when it was both raining and sunny.
Searching for the term 여우비 (yeo-woo bi), brings up a couple of entertainment-related results. First, there’s a 2007 animated movie called 천년여우 여우비 (cheon nyeon yeo-woo yeo-woo bi), also known as Yobi, the Five Tailed Fox in English. I think, although I may be wrong, that the title translates more directly as “1000 years fox, Yobi” (where Yobi is the name of the fox). The film is based loosely on the Korean folk tales of 구미호 (gumiho). 구미호 (gumiho) translates directly as “nine-tailed fox” and is a common theme in Japanese and Chinese folktales too (I guess that explains this Pokemon character from my youth). According to the Korean folk tales, a fox turns into a gumiho after it has lived for 1000 years. The Wikipedia page on gumiho goes into further details about these creatures, who are generally, but not always, evil. One snippet that I thought interesting and related to this post was this:
In Transformation of the Kumiho (구미호의 변신), a kumiho transforms into an identical likeness of a bride at a wedding and is only discovered when her clothes are removed.
There was also a popular 2010 Korean comedy TV series that I remember a few of my students going on about back then named 내 여자친구는 구미호 (nae yeo-ja chin-gu neun gumiho) My girlfriend’s a gumiho. The theme song for the television series was called 여우비 (yeo-woo bi) Fox rain, by singer Lee Sun Hee.
I also found this story from Japan titled The Foxes’ Wedding, which describes the tale of two foxes getting married on a day when the sun was shining while it rained, although there was no trickery involved.
Finally Snopes.com gives this explanation for the stories about foxes and other animals in various languages to describe the unusual weather of rain and sun.
Folklore supplies two putative “reasons” for these oddball showers, one having to do with animals behaving strangely, the other with the devil or witches. Various cultures ascribe the occurrence of these wettings to the marriage of animals, such as rats (Arabic), tigers (Korea), monkeys (Zulu), jackals (South Africa), hyenas (Kenya), or bears (Bulgaria). However, the critters most commonly pointed to are foxes — cultures in numerous spots around the world pronounce a sun shower as a sign the foxes are getting hitched.
While I don’t feel fully satisfied with the answers I was able to find today, mainly because there’s a lot of conflicting information online, I think I do at least have a better understanding of the phrases and their origin. If anyone knows any more about these Korean phrases, I’d love to hear about it.