(Originally published April 2013)
Thousands of years ago, the character for “Big” was drawn as a person with their arms spread wide open. It looked like this:
Today it looks very much the same, which makes it very easy to remember this character’s shape:
|Big / Great|
The number of Korean words that use this character is vast- the Hanja dictionary on Naver.com lists 4117 different words that use this character! In this article we will take a look at the most common, starting with the official name for South Korea, 대한민국, which literally means “Great Nation of the Han People”.
|Great||“Han”||People||Nation||Republic of Korea|
This name is usually shortened to just 한국, which just means “Han Nation”.
You may have heard of the famous남대문(Namdaemun) market, located in Seoul’s “South Gate”. 남대문 literally means ‘Great Southern Gate’:
|South||Great||Gate / Door||Great Southern Gate|
A university대학 is a big school of learning, which is reflected in the Hanja:
|Big||Learning/ School||University / College|
The Korean word for ‘continent’ just means large land:
|Large||Ground / earth||Continent|
Sometimes a new word can be formed by putting대 in front of an existing word. For example, a large city is called a ‘metropolis’, and the word in Korean is just the 대 in front of the word for city (도시):
|Large||City||Major city/ metropolis|
Sometimes when 대 can be put in front of words, you can also put the character for ‘small’ instead, to get the opposite. This will make sense once you seen some examples, but first here is the character for small:
This character evolved from a picture of 3 small dots, which looked like this:
Now let’s look at some examples that contrast big and small. Our first example will be ‘large scale’ and ‘small scale’, as in a ‘large scale operation’ or a ‘small scale earthquake’:
As you can see, we simply replaced the large대with the small to get the new소word.
The same is done for minimum and maximum (except in this case대 and소 are in the middle):
Here is a list of common words with 大 in them. Try and see how many you already knew:
|대기||大氣||The atmosphere, the air|
|대부분||大部分||Most of, for the most part|
|대중||大衆||The (general) public|
|대체로||大體-||Generally, mostly, overall|
It is pretty amazing that such a wide variety of words could something common!