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The Human Being in Korean Etymology – an Anthropological Note


Hae Yong Kim
Assistant Professor of Escola
Politécnica, Univ. de São Paulo

“Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in
this world will preserve it for eternal life. [John 12, 25]”.


In this letter, I will analyze one aspect of this Christ’s somewhat enigmatic sentence. To this purpose, I will make use of the etymology of the word “man” in Korean language, my mother tongue [1, 2].

In this language, man (saram 사람) means “the living being.” So, the words man (saram 사람), to live (sarda 살다) and life (sarm ) share the same root (sar). No other being but human is called “the living being” (saram 사람) and this word applies indistinctly to men and women.

It is noteworthy that the verbs to live (sarda 살다) and to burn (sarûda 사르다) also share the same root. Actually, sarûda 사르다means more than simply to burn. It means to burn up until complete destruction. So, man means the being that burns himself up to complete destruction. The verb to revive (saranada 사라나다) is another example of the relationship between the concepts to live and to burn. The original meaning of this verb is to reawake an extinguishing fire, but it can also mean to make a withered stick green again and to recover (a man or an animal) from a near death state.

The man is a living being that burns himself up to complete destruction. The reflexiveness of the verb to burn (sarûda 사르다) becomes more evident when consider that the word flesh (sar ) also procedes from the same root as the words man, to live and to burn. Consequently, man can be characterized as a living being that burns his own flesh up to total destruction.

Seemingly, it is a unanimous opinion that the above-mentioned words have the same origin. Although there seems to be some discording opinions, many authors opine that the word love (sarang 사랑) also has the same root as man, to live, to burn and flesh. Therefore, the proper activity of men (saram 사람) is to love (sarang 사랑). Hence, the man is a living being that burns his own flesh up to total destruction to love and because of love.

These etymological facts of the language of a country without christian tradition expresses perfectly the christian point of view of what a man is summoned to be. Jesus Christ, the man par excellence, the perfect model of what every man is summoned to be, has died on cross to redeem the humanity. He has burned his life entirely for our sake.

Even in the natural plan the sacrifice of oneself is necessary for the fulfillment of the man. The natural plenitude of human being is what is classically designated as virtue, as Pieper states [3]: “Thomas Aquinas has called the human virtue as ultimum potentiae, or, in the modern language, the maximum a person can be.” So, in natural sphere, a man fulfills himself by acquiring moral virtues. The four main moral virtues are called cardinals: prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. And the virtue of fortitude “disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause [4].”

In supernatural level, the ultimate fulfillment of man, in intimate union with God, is situated highly above our natural potentialities. We are summoned to identify ourselves with Christ himself. This process is carried out by grace and theological virtues: faith, hope and charity. And from this point of view we can understand more clearly that a man fulfills himself, accomplishes as man, becomes a true human being, when burns generously his life because of love. Any person who seeks his realization with egoistic intentions is doomed to failure. “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it [Luke 17, 33]”.

The Decalogue is sometimes compared with the “user’s manual” of an electronic equipment: it contains manufacturer’s precise instructions about what should and what should not be done to keep the equipment functioning appropriately. So, the Ten Commandments describe what to do in order to keep a man functioning appropriately in the natural plan. However, Christ, in the last supper, has given us a new commandment, a new “user’s manual” appropriate to assure the well-function of human being in supernatural plan: “I give you a new commandment: (...) as I have loved you, so you also should love one another [John 13, 34].”

“What should I do to be happy, to fulfill myself?” Every man has his own intimate answer to this question, even when he does not formulate it explicitly. This answer works like a watershed: an inch to the left or to the right ends up taking the raindrop to Atlantic or Pacific Ocean, to final and definite fulfillment or failure. There are only two possible answers, as Augustine of Hippo has already pointed out in City of God: a man seeks either his own advantages trying to safeguard his life or those of God (and, through God, those of the remainder of mankind) burning cheerfully his life up to its complete annihilation.

Acknowledgements: The author would like to manifest his gratitude to Prof. Kyu Hyun Park, Medical College of Pusan National University, Korea, for pointing out the etymologic facts related in this letter and for sending me the references [1, 2]; to Prof. Luiz Jean Lauand, Faculdade de Educação of Universidade de São Paulo, for stimulating me to write this letter and submit it to this journal; and to Marina Ribeiro de Almeida, Faculdade de Filosofia, Letras e Ciências Humanas of Universidade de São Paulo, for assisting me in the translation of this letter to English.


[1] Jung Ho Wan, The Power of Imagination of Korean Language, pp. 226-230, Mind World Publications, 1991, Seoul, Korea (in Korean).

[2] Choi Chang Ryoul, Introduction to Origin of Korean Language, pp. 30-31 and 192-195, Il Gi Publications, 1986, Seoul, Korea (in Korean).

[3] Josef Pieper, “Estar Certo Enquanto Homem - As Virtudes Cardeais,” available at site http://www.hottopos.com.br/videtur11/estcert.htm (in Portuguese).

[4] “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” paragraph 1808.