4 – Man and Woman 男 女

(Originally published March 2013)

The character for Man (남) is a combination of the character力 (which means strength) and田 (which means field), implying that a man was one who would use his strength to work a field. In ancient inscriptions you can see that strength 力 was carved as a bent arm, and the field 田 was like a rice paddy:



The character for Woman can be said as either 녀or 여depending on the word in which it is used. Ancient inscriptions of this character show a woman kneeling, with her arms crossed:


The two most common words that use this character are of course ‘man’ and ‘woman’:

남자 (男子): Man
여자 (女子): Woman
These 2 characters can also be used as a prefix for other words to indicate male and female, as in the following examples:

+ 學生 = 男學生
학생 남학생
Male Student Male Student
+ 學生 = 女學生
학생 여학생
Female Student Female Student
+ 同生 = 男同生
동생 남동생
Male Younger sibling Younger Brother
+ 同生 = 女同生
동생 여동생
Female Younger sibling Younger Sister

In some cases putting the female 女 in front of a word is similar to putting “ess” at the end of a word in English to indicate female. In these cases one would not put the male 男 in front of the word, as the word is assumed to refer to a male (or just generic). For example the word 직원 means employee. One would say여직원 to refer to female employees, but it would be incorrect to say 남직원 to refer to male employees. So직원 can refer to male employees or employees in general, but 여직원 refers only to female employees.

In the following examples it is correct to put 여 in front to indicate female, but incorrect to put 남 in front to indicate male (as male is the ‘default’).

+ 職員 = 女職員
직원 여직원
Female Employee Female Employee
+ 俳優 = 女俳優
배우 여배우
Female Actor Actress
+ 記者 = 女記者
기자 여기자
Female Reporter Female Reporter
+ = 女王
Female King Queen

소녀 Means “Young Girl”. The 소 in소녀 usually means ‘few’ but in this case means ‘young’. Notice that is this case 女 is pronounced 녀 instead of여:

+ = 少女
Young Female Young girl

When this word is combined with the word for ‘generation’ you get the name of a famous Korean pop group:

少女 + 時代 = 少女時代
소녀 시대 소녀시대
Girl Generation Girl’s Generation

I’d like to share a surprising meaning of a very common Korean word, but in order to do that I need to introduce a new character that means ‘comfortable/convenient’, and also ‘side’. You might find yourself wondering this character has to do with man and woman, but bear with me and it will be revealed at the end:

1. Comfortable, convenient

2. Side / direction

Let’s take a look at a few examples of this character when used with the ‘comfortable/convenient’ meaning:

便 + = 便利
편리 (하다)
Convenience Benefit/Advantage Convenient
便 + = 便安
편안 (하다)
Convenience Peace Peaceful / Calm
便 + = 便紙
Convenient Paper A Letter (mail)
便 + + = 便宜店
Convenience Proper Store/ Shop Convenience Store
+ 便 = 不便
편 (하다)
Not Comfortable Uncomfortable

Now lets take a look at some uses of this character 便when it means ‘side’:

뒤편: The back side

왼편: Left Side

오른편: Right Side

맞은편: The opposite side

저편: That side

건너편: Across, The other side

You might be wondering where all of this is going! Well, what do you suppose you would call a man 男 that was always by your side便 ?

+ 便 = 男便
Man Side Husband

A clever person might then deduce that if you did the same with the character女 (woman) and made the word 여편 that it would mean wife… except it doesn’t. As much sense as that would make, I’m afraid여편 isn’t a word!


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