염병하다

Flooooooooor

Senior Member
English - USA
Hi all,

(Note: To learn more about the topic, I have used some swear words in this post.)

In a YouTube video discussing the Japan's "rising sun" flag, the 욱일기, the speaker opens the topic with this introductory sentence:

연예인들이 이 국기가 있는 옷을 입거나, 일본이 이 국기를 걸고 염병을 하거나, 그럴 경우 대한민국 전국민이 분노에 흽싸입니다. (I cannot link to this video itself because of the rule against audio/video links, but the title of the YouTube video is "이게 만들어지게된 과정".)​
I believe that I fully understand this sentence but wanted to ask about the nuance of 염병을 하다. First, a few things I have looked up on my own:
  • First, Naver 국어사전 gives here the definition of a similar phrase, 염병을 떨다: 엉뚱하거나 나쁜 짓을 하다. First, is 염병을 하다 simply a variant of this phrase?
  • Second, this page gives a helpful explanation of the word 염병's history to refer to typhus, a particularly nasty disease, and how 염병을 하다 has an original meaning of "to suffer from typhus", but that now it may be used as a swear word. Is this second meaning considered stronger than 염병을 떨다, or is it about similar?
  • Finally, I am aware of the so-called "삼염병 사건" in which a custodian famously yelled "염병하네!" 3 times at a passing 최순실.
Besides the small questions I asked above, my main question is: what exactly does 염병하다 sound like to native speakers? How vulgar is it considered to be, and does it describe someone's actions more as foolish and ridiculous, or more as evil?

When the custodian yelled 염병하네! at 최순신, would this have sounded something like "You terrible person who does terrible things!" -- quite direct and accusatory, but not necessarily vulgar -- or more like "You evil asshole!" or "You evil motherfucker!"? Or perhaps like something else?

Similarly, in the example sentence from the YouTube video, what would be the best translation to match the way native speakers hear the phrase "일본이 이 국기를 걸고 염병하거나 그럴 경우"? Would it be something like:
  • "times when Japan hoists this flag and engages in tomfoolery"? -- again, somewhat dismissive and accusatory, but not vulgar?
  • "...does some stupid shit" -- dismissive and vulgar?
  • "...does some evil shit" -- accusatory and vulgar?
  • or something else?
Thank you for any guidance you can give, and apologies for the foul language -- I include it only to get a better understanding of this phrase's nuance!
 
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  • pcy0308

    Senior Member
    Korean
    Hello Flooooooooor,
    Quoting your own words, when using "염병하다", there clearly is more or less "dismissive and vulgar" and rather explicit and insulting undertone since the nature of the word itself is profane, using a sarcastic and quite inappropriate twist on symptoms of typhus (which involves raving, delirious mental state).

    If you are familiar with commonly used Korean slangs/profanity, you must be aware of the expression, "지랄병", "지랄하다", "지랄떨다". Notice how the verbs "-하다" and "-떨다" are used interchangeably: it is pretty much the same for "염병하다", "염병떨다". They basically mean the same thing with the latter sounding only a tad bit more vulgar. "지랄병" just like "염병" is used to refer to stupidity, idiocy of an action or behavior by comparing it directly to an eplieptic seizure, fit. Yes, it is very vulgar - some would say, even more so than "염병".

    You would normally not use "염병" to describe an action or behavior that you approve of, so depending on how the word is used, it can most definitely be "accusatory", but when concerning its general usage and definition, it is just "dismissive and vulgar", indicating that a certain action is just outright foolish and idiotic. Therefore, in the given example of 최순실, "염병하네" means "what an idiotic/stupid/foolish/dumb (you can go on and on...) person." (At the same time, here, there is no need to really consider the "염병"'s accusatory and vulgar definitions separately: of course, the person yelling "염병하네" feels 최순실's actions are unjust, foolish, and punishable, and the usage of "염병" here serves to not only insult her foolishness and ridiculousness but also accuse her wrongdoing. Just bear in mind that the words' general usage is almost always dismissive and insulting and depending on how it is used under different contexts it can also carry that accusatory undertone. That being said, "염병" does not denote or have any direct connotation of "evilness" or "moral wrongdoing".)

    [Just a side note, why "almost always"? This may confuse non-native speakers, but you may come across this expression used between close friends who are just bantering. Personally, I heard it from an older person using a southern dialect, and ironically, he used it as a response to a compliment/a flattery (with a big smile on his face - so in this case, its usage is neither accusatory nor dismissive, though it still may be considered slang-like and vulgar. Think of it as an English equivalent of "get outta here", "you're just saying s**t" or "you're kidding". For example,
    A: 할아버지 너무 멋져요! (Grandpa, you are way too awesome!)
    B: 염병하네! 밥이나 먹어! (Get outta here! Just eat your meal!)]

    Taking into account the aforementioned vulgarity, dismissive and insulting undertone of the word "염병", Japan "doing stupid s**t" would be the closest interpretation of your given sentence. Tomfoolery would definitely be a euphemised form of "염병"'s English counterpart, and as mentioned above, "염병" does not necessarily have "moral" or "good or evil" connotation so the third does not quite make it. Hope this helps!
     

    Flooooooooor

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    Wow, pcy0308 -- this extremely thorough response has exactly the type of information I was hoping to learn, and more. Thank you very much!
     
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