Homonyms

“What’s headache in Korean?”

“두통.” [pronounced like doo-tong] The sixth graders shouted. They love shouting…

“두 as in 두 for two?” I asked because Korean is mostly phonetically spelled but not always. Plus my ears are still being tuned to similar sounds and thirty masked twelve year olds yelling at the same time doesn’t help.

“No,” they shouted with conviction, “두 as in 頭 for head. The Chinese 두.”

I don’t know Hanja but I had some idea where this was going so I asked one student to write it in Korean for me. The spelling?

두통.

That’s right— I asked if the spelling was 두 and they said no, the spelling is 두.

Why on earth they would think I’m asking about the etymology of the syllable is beyond me, but hey at least I learned something. 두 (particle for two) and 두 (Chinese descended word for head) are homonyms!

Here’s the same situation in English:

“How do you spell ‘bat’? B-A-T as in baseball bat?”

“No, B-A-T as in bat like the animal.”

“Those are… exactly the same. B-A-T!”

Another fun homonym that my German classmate pointed out when we attended level 3 Korean class is 차례 which can mean ancestral memorial rites or… a sequence.

I’m glad that Korean also has homonyms, though. They’re kind of fun!

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