12 – Know yourself 自

(Originally published January 2014)

This month we are going to talk about the character自 which means ‘Self’. In Korean it is pronounced 자 (‘Ja’).


The Korean word 자동(自動) (‘Ja-dong’) means automatic. The word is made up of two characters:

自 (자) ‘Ja’ – Self

動 (동) ‘Dong’ –Move

So 자동(自動) (‘Ja-dong’) literally means ‘self-moving’.

The Korean word for ‘car’ is 자동차 (自動車) (‘Ja Dong Cha’). The word breaks down to mean ‘Automatic Cart’ or even more literally ‘self moving cart’:

自 (자) ‘Ja’-Self

動 (동) ‘Dong’ –Move

車 (차) ‘Cart’ –Cart

The Korean word for ‘automatic door’ is 자동문 (‘Ja-dong-mun’) which is simply 자동 (‘Ja-dong’) for automatic, plus 문 (‘Mun’) for ‘door’.

自 (자) ‘Ja’-Self

動 (동) ‘Dong’ –Move

門 (문) ‘Mun’ –Door

In fact you can put 자동 in front of just about any word to mean “Auto-whatever” just like in English:

자동 로그인   (‘Ja-dong Ro-Guh-In’) Automatic Login

자동 번역기 (‘Ja-dong Beon-Yeok-Gi’) Automatic Translator

자동 예약 시스템 (‘Ja-dong Yeh-Yak Si-suh-tem’)- Automated Reservation System

자동 정보 시스템 (‘Ja-dong Jeong-Bo Si-suh-tem’)- Automated Information System

A vending machine is a machine that sells things by itself. The Korean word for ‘vending machine’ is 자판기 (自販機) (‘Ja-Pan-Gi’). This word can be broken down in to three parts:

自 (자) ‘Ja’-Self

販 (판) ‘Pan’ –Selling

機 (판) ‘Gi’ –Device

Of course words with 자 (自) (‘Ja’) in them don’t only have to be about machines. They can also be about people.

The Korean word for ‘self-respect’ or ‘self-esteem’ is 자존심 (自尊心)(‘Ja-Jon-Shim’). It breaks down like this:

自 (자) ‘Ja’-Self

尊 (존) ‘Jon’ – Honor, respect

心 (심) ‘Shim’ – Heart, Emotion

The Korean word for ‘self confidence’ is 자신 (自信) (‘Ja-Shin’). It breaks down like this:

自 (자) ‘Ja’-Self

信 (신) ‘Shin’ –Trust

The words 자기 (自己) (‘Ja-Gi’) and자신 (自身) (‘Ja-Shin’) are very similar and both basically mean ‘Oneself’.

Now I’m going to let you guess the meaning of a word based only on the way it breaks down. It’s pretty easy, but that’s kind of the point- once you start learning Hanja, then guessing the meaning of new words gets easier.

The word is 자살 (自殺) (‘Ja-Sal’) and it breaks down like this:

自 (자) ‘Ja’-Self

殺 (살) ‘Sal’ – Kill

So, can you guess what this word means? If you think you know the answer, email it to me at newhanja@gmail.com


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s