18 – It takes work 工

(Originally published September 2014)

Many other Korean words related to ‘work’ or ‘making things’ have the sound 공 (‘Gong’ – pronounced with a long “o”, like the “o” in “tone”) in them. This sound comes from the Chinese character 工 which means ‘Work’. The character dates back to ancient Chinese pictographs of a carpenter’s square.


The word for “Man made” or “artificial” is인공 (人工– ‘In-Gong’). The first syllable 인 (‘In’) comes from the character 人 which means ‘person’. When combined with 공 (‘Gong’ – work) it literally means ‘Person-Made’.


인공호수 (“In-Gong-Ho-Su”) – Man-made lake

인공색소 (“In-Gong-Saek-So”) – Artificial coloring

인공지능 (“In-Gong-Ji-Neung”) – Artificial intelligence

The Korean word for ‘factory’ is 공장 (工場 – “Gong-jang”). The second syllable in this word, 장 (場 – ‘Jang’) means ‘place’. When combined with When combined with 공 (‘Gong’) you get a word that literally means “Making-Place”- or factory.


의류 공장 (“Eui-Ryu Gong-Jang”) – Clothing Factory

자동차 공장 (“Ja-Dong-Cha Gong-Jang”) – Auto Factory

제철 공장 (“Jae-Cheol Gong-Jang”) – Steel Factory

The Chinese character 業 (업 – “Eop”) means “Profession, business, trade”. When combined with공 (‘Gong’) you get공업 (工業 – “Gong-Eop”) which means “Industry”.


경공업 (“Gyeong-Gong-Eop”) – light industries

중공업 (“Joong-Gong-Eop”) – heavy industries

기계공업 (“Gi-Gye-Gong-Eop”) – machinery industries

Finally we come to the most important vocabulary word of all…공부 (工夫 – “Gong-Bu”): Study! The second character 夫 (부- “bu”) in 공부 (“Gong-Bu”) originally meant “husband” but can also means “man” or “male”. Perhaps this is because in ancient times studying was work that only a man would do.

I’ll leave you with the command 열심히 공부해라! (Yeol-Shim-Hee Gong-Bu Hae-Ra)… Study hard!

Have a word or character that you would like to know more about? Send your questions and comments to newhanja@gmail.com


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