Wordcatcher Tales: Two Teas, A Bug, OMG

Anybody who’s paid attention to my latest batch of Flickr photos will know that I took a short trip to Korea in June. Unfortunately, the rudimentary Korean I had learned before my last visit there on a wonderful junket in 1995 had faded to the point that I felt rather frustrated by my inability to say very much, despite my ability to read and sound out far more words in hangul than I can understand. However, I did manage to pick up a few new Korean words for things I ingested, plus one new Chinese expression that showed up repeatedly in the subtitles of an in-flight movie too silly to listen to.

This time I learned the names for two new Korean teas, one of which I’m sure I sampled during my last visit back in 1995.

오미자차 omija cha (五味子茶) ‘five flavor berry tea’ is made from Schisandra chinensis (Ch. wǔ wèi zi, Jp. gomishi), whose flavor, as its common name implies, is supposed to be sweet, tart, salty, bitter, and aromatic all at once. I found it to very refreshing.

솔잎차 ‘pine leaf (= needle) tea’ (松葉茶) is written sol ip cha but is often romanized solnip cha and it sounded to me like sollip cha (and not sorip, as it would normally be with an /l/ between two vowels). This tea was was also refreshing, mildly aromatic, not sweet, and only slightly bitter. The native Korean root for ‘pine’ is sol- in ‘pine needle’ (솔잎 sol-ip) but is truncated to so- in ‘pine tree’ (소나무 sonamu). The Sino-Korean root is song-, as in ‘pine flower/pollen’ 송화 song-hwa and ‘pine dumplings’ song-pyeon (served at Chuseok). It is cognate with (Mandarin) Chinese sōng and Sino-Japanese shō (as in shōchikubai ‘pine-bamboo-plum’). (I revised this paragraph in response to Doc Rock in the comments.)

번데기 beondegi ‘chrysalis, pupa’ (borrowed into Jp. as ポンテギ pontegi) – In 1995, I got the chance to sample fried grasshoppers, thanks to a little old lady selling them by the parking lot at Sokkuram Grotto in Gyeongju. This year, I came across cooked silkworm pupae on sale by the footpath to Jeondeungsa temple complex on Ganghwa Island. I was surprised that several others in the group I was with sampled them. They’re more chewy than crunchy, high in fat, fiber, and calcium, and not too salty. They used to be a very popular snack in Korea—for kids as well as adults. They were also eaten in China. Nowadays, they’re much more commonly used to feed koi (carp), turtles, lizards, and chickens.

Roasted silkworms to eat, Jeondeungsa, Ganghwa Island

我的天 wǒ de tiān ‘OMG’ (lit. ‘my heaven’) seemed to be a signature opening dialogue tic in the Chinese subtitles of Bride Wars, an in-flight movie I tried hard to sleep through on the long flight back via Narita. (I won’t blog about my trip to Narita-san Temple during my long layover, since I’ve already put so much effort into enhancing its Wikipedia article. Wikipedia and Flickr have been soaking up most of my blogging energy these days.)

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3 Comments

Filed under China, food, Korea, language, travel

3 responses to “Wordcatcher Tales: Two Teas, A Bug, OMG

  1. Your juxtaposition of the Hangeul 솔잎차 followed the Chinese equivalent in Hancha (松葉茶) seems to imply that the characters are read 솔잎차 in Korean. They are not, they are read 송엽차 [song- yeopcha]. 솔 [sol] is the pure Korean for pine as in 솔나무, while 송[松] is the reading of the Sino-Korean loan word. What is confusing, perhaps, is that in the compound 솔잎차 the native Korean 솔잎 [pine leaf/needle] has the Sino-Korean loan word 차 [茶] appended to it.

    Note also that the Chinese character 茶 has two readings, 차/다. Western words for “tea” are derived from both the Chinese pronounciations–so we see “tea” in English and “chai.” “Chai tea” is obviously redundant. In Russian tea is “cha,” for example. These differences seem to reflect which ports of China one originally got tea from.

  2. Thank you! That’s exactly what I suspected. The native Korean and Sino-Korean forms for ‘pine’ seemed too close for coincidence, but my Korean hancha dictionary glosses 松 ‘pine’ as 솔송 [sol-song] in the usual native Korean plus Sino-Korean readings of the same meaning. I’ll update accordingly.

  3. PS: I follow your blog regularly and especially look forward to your Wordcatcher segments and your photos. Keep up the good work! Doc

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