Many thanks to my good friend, June Jun, for suggesting these proverbs and providing their meanings.
1. A bird listens to what you are saying at day, and a mouse listens to what you are saying at night.
—We shouldn’t gossip or spill a secret since it can be overheard, and it can be spread even if we don’t want it to be.
2. The day is the funeral.
—There were two good friends. However, they hadn’t seen each other for a long time. Finally, one friend decided to visit the other one, but that day was his funeral. So the expression means that something regretful or pitiful happened.
3. You can catch the bugs after spinning a web.
—You can get something with preparation.
4. A straight tree is used for timber, and a bent tree is used for firewood.
—Everything (everyone) can be used, based on the inherent talent.
5. When a plowman can’t dig straight furrows in the field, he blames the cow.
—A person who lacks ability may make excuses by blaming something other than himself.
6. A fish cannot live in water that is too clean.
—Demanding too much perfection can cause problems.
7. Frogs forget being tadpoles.
—Once people succeed, they may become prideful and forget their humbler origins.
8. If a tree has many branches, there is always movement.
—A household with many children is never void of movement.
9. Works like a dog and spends like a scholar.
—No matter how a person earns his money, he may still spend it judiciously.
10. Even straw shoes are a pair.
—In Korea, the single woman who is highly educated and has a professional job is called a “gold miss.” This expression about straw shoes is used to encourage an unmarried person, such as a “gold miss,” by implying that if common shoes make a pair, then surely someone exists for that person somewhere.
11. I go to Gangnam (the center of Seoul) just following a friend.
—The person is doing something just because a friend is doing it, without thinking logically or having a good purpose.
12. A sister-in-law stopping a mother-in-law who is beating a daughter-in-law is more hateful than the mother-in-law.
—This describes the situation where the person pretends to help (stepping in to stop a beating), but is actually slandering someone secretly (doing something worse than the one beating her daughter-in-law).
If you know another interesting proverb from Korea, please leave a comment.