Etymology of Korean nodaji ‘gold, bonanza’

Korea, like the Yukon, Australia, Papua New Guinea, South Africa, and many other parts of the world, experienced a gold rush in the early late 1800s and early 1900s.

The Oriental Consolidated Mining Company’s headquarters camp at Pukchin evolved from “primitive” to “comfortable” by 1930. In the beginning, when the American engineers lived in mud-walled dwellings with furniture made of old crates and cut-up kerosene drums, the winters seemed especially harsh. But year by year the quality of life improved. A motor vehicle road connected Pukchin with the outside world. A narrow-gauge railroad system connected the mining valley with the surrounding timberland and eventually linked the company to the standard-gauge Korean railroad system. Wood-fired steam power ran the company’s equipment at first; then came kerosene; and then, when operations expanded and the mines went deeper underground, a hydroelectric power network: nearly a million dollars’ worth of reservoirs, dams, generators, and lines, supplemented by a diesel backup system, making for the most reliable power supply in the country at the time.

Since Unsan [in northwest Korea] was gold country, there was always plenty of money around. The Koreans used their copper cash in the beginning, little coins with holes for making cash “strings,” multiples of which were required for even the cheapest purchases and carloads of which were required to meet the payroll. After 1905 it was silver yen and Mexican dollars, the common currency of the China Coast. And there was the gold itself. Bullion boxes bore the words “No touch”; and in fact, the frequently shouted words “No touchee!” were so well known at Unsan that soon they became part of the language. Even today, “nodaji” is a Korean word meaning gold (or any bonanza).

SOURCE: Living Dangerously in Korea: The Western Experience 1900-1950, by Donald N. Clark (Eastbridge, 2003), p. 231

According to Gari Ledyard of Columbia University,

The name may have been coined by a Japanese–many of whom were hired as foremen and middle level employees by the O.C.M.C. In Japanese, “No Touch” was kana-ized as “No-ta-chi,” and in the colonial period that phrase came to be synonymous with “bonanza.” Of course, No-ta-chi in Korean will come out “Nodaji.” I have heard it used many times in my time in Korea.

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