11 – Clothes Encounters 服

(Originally published December 2013)


The native Korean word for clothes is 옷 (“ot”) and when talking about clothing in general this is the word you would use most often. But there are many different types of clothing- uniforms, evening wear, baby clothes, and man’s suit, etc. But learning all the different vocabulary for all these types of clothing isn’t as hard as you would think because they all have something in common- the character 服 which is spelled 복 (bok) in Korean. The origins of this character and how it came to mean ‘clothes’ are unclear, but as we are about to discover, many different clothing-related works have복 (bok) in them.

The most famous example would be the traditional Korean 한복 or ‘Hanbok’. 한 (Han) simply means ‘Korean’, so 한복 (Hanbok) really just means ‘Korean Clothes’, but in modern times this means the traditional costume with bright colors, baggy trousers for men and short coats and long dresses for women.

Western style clothing was introduced to Korea in the 19th century. The term 양 (Yang) was used to refer to anything ‘western’, and so the western style men’s suit and tie became known as the 양복 (Yangbok), the term by which it is still known today.

The Korean word for ‘uniform’ is 제복 (‘Jaebok’). Lets take a look at some of the different types of uniforms:

교복 (‘Kyobok’)(校服) means ‘school uniform’. The first part of this word 교 (‘Kyo’) comes from the chinese 校 which means ‘School’, and of course 복 (‘bok’) means ‘clothes’. If you know the Korean word for school is 학교 (Hakkyo) then this becomes easy to remember- the last syllable of 학교 (Hakkyo – ‘school’) is the first syllable of 교복 (‘Kyobok’ – school uniform). This is because they both share a common root in the Chinese character 校 (school).

군복 (‘Kunbok’)(軍服) means Military Uniform. We know that the second syllable of this word (복 ‘bok’) means clothing. Can you guess what the first syllable means? If you guess ‘military’ then you are correct! 군 (‘Kun’) comes from the Chinese character 軍 which means ‘military’.

At the end of the day it is time to take off your uniform and put back on your 사복 (‘Sabok’)(私服 ), which means ‘civilian clothes’, or ‘plain clothes’. The first syllable 사(‘Sa’) comes from the Chinese character 私 which means ‘personal’ or ‘private’. So 사복 (‘Sabok’) literally means ‘personal clothes’.

The robes that a Buddhist monk wears is called 승복 (‘Seungbok’). The first syllable 승복 (‘Seung’) comes from the Chinese character 僧 which means ‘Buddhist Monk’. So 승복 (‘Seungbok’) literally means ‘Buddhist Monk Clothes’.

An astronaut wears a space suit, called 우주복 (‘Ujubok’). The first part, 우주 (‘Uju’) means ‘space’.

수영 (‘Suyeong’) means ‘swimming’. So can you guess what a ‘swim suit’ is called? If you guessed수영복 (‘Suyeongbok’) then you are correct!

Here are some of the types of clothes you might find in a department store, all with 복(‘bok’) in them:

야회복 (‘YaHoi-bok’) Evening wear

임신복 (‘Imshin-bok’) Maternity clothes

신사복 (‘Shinsa-bok’) Men’s wear

아동복 (‘Adong-bok’) Children”s wear

평상복 (‘Pyeongsang-bok’) Casual Wear

유아복 (‘Yuah-bok’) Baby clothes

Hopefully now you will begin to recognize the 복 (‘bok’) sound in Korean words relating to clothes, and this will make those new words easier to remember. Because that’s the whole idea of studying Hanja- learning the meaning behind the sounds of the words makes learning new words much easier!

I’m going to end this article with a quiz. Do you know what the Korean word 운동 (‘Undong’) means? If so, can you guess what 운동복 means? If you think you know the answer, email me at newhanja@gmail.com. A winner will be picked from among the correct answers and will be announced in next month’s article!


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