29 – 手 Give Me a Hand

(Published August 2015)

This month we are going to take a look at a character 手which means ‘hand’ and can also mean ‘skill’. In Korean this character is pronounced 수 (“Su”). Many Koreans words relating to hands or skill will have this sound in them.

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For example, the Korean word for ‘handshake’ is 악수 (握手 – “Ahk-Su”). The word is made up of two syllables which come from Chinese characters. The first syllable 악 (“Ahk”) comes from the Chinese character 握 which means to ‘grip’ or ‘grasp’. The second syllable 수 (手 – “Su”) is this month’s character that means ‘hand’. So악수 (“Ahk-su”) literally means ‘grasp hand’.

A very similar word is박수 (拍手 – “Bak-Su”) which means ‘clap hands’ or ‘applause’. In this word the first syllable 박 (拍 – “Bak”) means ‘clap, tap, or beat’. And just like the last example, the second syllable수 (手 – “Su”) means ‘hand’. When they are put together the word박수 (拍手 – “Bak-Su”) literally means ‘clap-hand’.

The Korean word 세수 (洗手 – “Seh-Su”) means to ‘wash up’ or wash your face and hands. This time the first syllable 세 (洗 – “Seh”) means ‘wash’ or ‘clean’, and of course the second syllable수 (手 – “Su”) means ‘hand’.

After you wash your hands and face you would dry with a수건 (手巾 – “Su-Geon”). This time수 (手 – “Su”) is the first syllable, and the second syllable 건 (巾 – “Geon”) means ‘cloth’. When you put them together you get수건 (手巾 – “Su-Geon”) which means ‘towel’.

When you write a check to somebody you use your hand and write on a small piece of paper. The Korean word for a bank check is수표 (手票 – “Su-Pyo”). The first syllable again means ‘hand’, and the second syllable 표 (票 – “Pyo”) means a small piece of paper or ‘ticket’.

수 (手 – “Su”) can also have the meaning of ‘skill’. For example the word가수 (歌手 – “Gah-Su”) means ‘singer’ or ‘vocalist’. The first syllable 가 (歌 – “Gah”) means ‘song’ and this time the second syllable수 (手 – “Su”) means ‘skill’. So a가수 (歌手 – “Gah-Su”) is somebody who has ‘song-skill’.

Here are some other very common Korean words that use this character:

선수 (選手 – “Seon-Su”): Player, athlete

실수 (失手 – “Shil-Su”): Mistake, error

수술 (手術 – “Sul-Su”): Operation, surgery

I hope that knowing what수 (手 – “Su”) means makes learning these vocabulary words easier. Have a word or character that you would like to know more about? Send your questions and comments to newhanja@gmail.com.

Finally, this August I would like to bid a tearful farewell to my friends, the Kim Family. Grace, Frank, Dylan and Katherine you will all be missed! Good luck to all of you!

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