[Ask Hyojin] Animal Similes in Korea


In this episode, Hyojin and Hyunwoo introduce animal similes in Korean to help you understand what it means when you hear someone say things such as, “that girl is like a fox,” “that man is like a wolf,” “he/she eats like a pig,” or “children are like chicks.”

  • 청개구리 [cheong-gae-gu-ri] = green frog / someone who always does things the opposite way he or she was told to do
  • 여우 [yeo-u] = fox / a girl who knows how to get what she wants
  • 늑대 [neuk-dae] = wolf / a guy with a dirty mind
  • 돼지 [dwae-ji] = pig / someone who is chubby or likes to eat a lot
  • 강아지 [gang-a-ji] = puppy / a term usually used by grandparents to address their young grandchildren
  • 개 [gae] = dog / often associated with insults
  • 호랑이 [ho-rang-i] = tiger / a teacher or coach who is very strict
  • 곰 [gom] = bear / someone who is numb or can’t read the atmosphere
  • 두꺼비 [du-kkeo-bi] = toad / only used in the form 떡두꺼비, which refers to a healthy new-born son
  • 병아리 [byeong-a-ri] = chick / young and cute children

If you have any questions that you’d like Hyojin to answer in the next episode, leave them in the comment below! You can also browse through and watch all the episodes of Ask Hyojin here!

This episode of Ask Hyojin was sponsored by Hello Talk. You can find language exchange partners and practice chatting in Korean for free using this app. Click on the image below to download the iOS app.


You can send text messages or audio messages to your language exchange partners and also use the “translate” function when you need help with understanding some parts of the sentences written by the other person.

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There are some of the main features of the app:

* Find native speakers of the language you are learning locally or worldwide
* Help each other learn foreign language through text and voice language exchange
* Share photos with your language partner about your life and home country culture

What we found particularly interesting was how you could set the amount of time for language exchange, and the app will keep track of exactly how many minutes and seconds you spent speaking in one language. If you press down the speaker button for 5 seconds and talk in Korean for 5 seconds, it will only record 5 seconds as your talking time. So doing a “5-min” language exchange can be quite a lot of practice too.

If you select “Korean” as your learning language, you will find Korean people who want to be language exchange partners with you. Try it out and let us know how it went!

  • Mairi

    o: useful 😀

    with chick, where I live, I commonly hear girls being called a chick. It can be used by guys as well as girls both in a friendly way and in a flirty way. Some girls don’t like being called it though.

    similes I’ve heard/used before are.

    Sounds like a strangled cat – It can have various meanings depending on the area, but I mostly use it for someone screaming loudly (for the heck of it) or…when saying someone can’t sing.

    Watching/Watched something like a hawk – Someone who is focused on something or it can act as a warning depending on context, like, ‘watch that girl/boy like a hawk because he’s been caught stealing before’.

    Squeals/squealing like a pig – I always heard this as a child more than anything, screaming/crying because of a fall or something

    • Wow, very interesting!

      Thanks for letting us know the similes in your country. I have never heard a similes about cat.

  • Deidrea

    All men are wolves. Haha! Great advice, Hyunwoo!

    And great post! It’s fun to see the English/Korean similarities. Fox, wolf, and pig are all the same in a lot of English idioms. Even dog is similar, except, dog is not so much an insult here – only the name of a female dog is an insult. But it’s a pretty bad insult, and it usually means a crazy/horrible woman.

    We also have a few different ones:

    Blind as a bat – Bats can’t see, so if you say you’re blind as a bat it means you have terrible eye sight. Not really an insult, more or less said like a joke.

    Cow – If you call someone a cow, it means they are fat/overweight. It’s an insult.

    Rat – Someone who is shady, can’t be trusted, who has selfish motives. It can be applied for both men and women I guess, but I’ve only ever heard it referring to men

    Mole – Someone who acts like they are on one side, but is actually on the other side. Also known as a double agent. Mainly used in spy movies and things of that sort.

    A lone wolf – Someone who spends a lot of time by themselves, someone who doesn’t have a lot of friends by choice.

  • Jennifer

    Great post!

    Fox can have different meanings based on the context it is used. One being an attractive person, usually a female. Or it can also mean cunning and experienced and can get what they want, often in an underhand way and can be used for men and women.

    If a person is a pig they are sloppy.

    If a person is catty they are intentionally hurtful and spiteful in their remarks. If a horse is described as catty it can change directions quickly.

    A cougar is a middle aged woman who is dating a younger man.

    If a person runs like a deer they are agile and graceful.

    I’m sure there are others that I’m not thinking of. 🙂

  • Karen d

    Chick is disrespectful. If someone called me that, he’d get a pointed “Excuse Me?!” or The Look.
    English animal metaphors:
    Most of them are insults.
    Everyone knows the most insulting one. The real meaning of B**** is a female dog.
    Dog – is someone ugly (typically a woman – uses by the same type of men who would use chick).
    Toad could be used for a “brown noser” – someone who “figuratively” bows down all the time to do what a boss needs
    Side note: Tiger in English can refer to prowess/aggressiveness in Bed.

    • Oh… dog has bad meaning too in your country. Ah… poor dog.

  • Andrea Midori Guerrero

    I really enjoyed the video! I’m from Peru so I loved the part when you talked in Spanish 🙂 I hope you continue learning the language ^^

    • Thanks for your comment. 🙂 I kept saying Tengo Ambre when we were in Mexico. hehe

  • benben yoon

    Thank you so much. ^^

  • Yi Hwa

    In my country, foxes mean cunning/sly women! Dog is sort of a curse word, typically used among teenagers but many adults are starting to use them too – it’s basically a bad word already. A chicken is someone hardworking while a pig is someone sloppy. A bird is often used to refer to someone who sing well.

    • Wow, it is interesting to know the simile of a chicken. 🙂 In Korean, it is often regarded as dumb animal which forget everything quickly. 🙂

  • 아틸라

    Similies??? I first read Smilies! And I was very excited to see what you guys come up for, for that title “Smiles” 🙂 But then… got a bit more serious when found out there was an extra i…

    Also, I was going to try the Hellotalk straight away!!! But sadly, it’s not yet done for Android phones??? 🙁 (I know at least two other persons, who would 100% try it, they are Hungarians, willing to learn English).

    좋은 비디오에요! 고마워요!

    • Even though the title is about similes but you will see Hyunwoo and Hyojin’s smiles through the video.

      Thanks for your comment. 🙂

  • rigo

    very good , i guess those expressions exist everywhere , Hyojin you sound so cute speaking spanish
    you should learn a little more
    i had fun watching this video

  • Andrew

    There are many in western culture and some animals can have many similes depending on context.

    You can be lucky by “having more lives than a cat,” referring to the belief that a cat has nine lives, or you may be unlucky like a “black cat,” referring to the belief that it was bad luck to have a black cat cross your path.
    If somebody is popular they could be called a “cool cat,” or perpetually lucky they are said to “always land on their feet” like a cat.

    Women sometimes refer to men as “dogs” in the same vein as the Korean wolf, and men mostly use it as term to describe a particularly ugly woman.
    Someone who acts like a body guard to another person could be “this person’s guard dog” or if they are always currying favours they can be called a “lap dog.”
    There is also the expression usually directed at men who have a controlling girlfriend or wife although it can be used for both sexes that they are being kept “on a tight leash” like a dog.

    You can be described as “strong as an ox” if well-built or particularly healthy, or if you are particularly clumsy and destructive you might be described to be like a “bull in a china shop.”
    If stubborn you are being “bull headed,” and a woman can be called a “cow” for being mildly devious or malicious.

    You can be “free as a bird” if you don’t have any plans or immediate responsibilities, and if you share the same values or outlooks on life with another person you would be described as “two birds of a feather.”
    If you are proved wrong and have to apologise you are said to be “eating crow.”
    You can also be “wise as an owl,” or if harmlessly playing you are “larking around.”
    “Dead as a dodo” is used if you want to emphasise if something is really dead be it an animate or inanimate object.
    “Singing like a canary” is used for a person who is spilling all their secrets, usually a prisoner confessing.
    If you are someone who refuses to face reality or the truth you are said to have your “head in the sand” like an ostrich.
    You may also be warned not to be too “cocky” as in a rooster strutting around like its king of the world which may have something to do with the saying “todays’ cock of the walk is tomorrows feather duster.”

    Hmmm, maybe I’ll stop here because this is turning into an essay. 🙂

  • Jessica Elliott

    Andrew’s reply was really good! Both of you mispronounced the word “toad” though. Remember that “when two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking” which means when two vowels are paired together, the first one says it’s name. So “toad” rhymes with “road” and is pronounced with the long vowel sound.

    On the similies, I thought I’d add a bit. If you “rat someone out” it means you told their secrets, often in a way that gets them in trouble. Calling a younger woman a chick is okay, but I wouldn’t expect to hear it referring to anyone over about 25 years old. Sometimes, women will call their children their “little chickadees” or say that their “chicks are all back in the nest” when their children have all returned home after being away for a while. A man who is often verbally abused by his wife is said to be “hen-pecked” or “horse whipped”. Also, a person who acts like every small problem is a huge emergency, and frantically runs around doing things but not accomplishing much, is said to be acting like “a chicken with it’s head cut off”. (If you’ve ever seen a chicken running around after it’s head is cut off, you’ll understand this)

    I have often been called a “mama bear” which is a mom who fiercely protects her children. It’s a term that a lot of women use with pride. Being called a “pitbull mom” however, is not a compliment. It means a woman won’t let go of an issue no matter what. It implies extreme stubbornness.

    If you call someone “mule-headed” or “pig-headed” it also means they are extremely stubborn. Same thing if someone gives you a “mulish” look. It means they are acting like a mule/donkey.

    I find it very funny that if someone called me a “fox” in the U.S., I would be complimented, but if they said it in Korea, I’d be insulted. Tiger isn’t bad here, either. People call a young boy that to say that he is active, motivated, and a hard worker, particularly in sports. You might here a boy called “Tiger” or “Champ” both with the same general meaning. If we call a man that, it means he is either aggressive in bed or in the office. Neither one is really a bad thing.

    Last one, “pig” isn’t always a bad thing in the U.S. We have events were everyone is invited to “pig out” which means eat until you are completely full. There is actually a Korean barbeque place near here with that in their name. “Pig” can vary in it’s meaning depending on how it’s used. I tell my kids all the time that their room looks like a pig sty. Which is what we call the place where a pig lives. It just means I want them to clean it up. It’s also common for moms to ask their kids, “Were you born in a barn?” Meaning that they haven’t learned to keep their living area clean like a human being. Funny (or not) side note, my older brother once responded to my mom by asking, “If we were born in a barn, then what does that make YOU?” I won’t tell you what happened next since I heard that Koreans don’t believe in corporal punishment anymore….

  • Erica

    It’s a great video and a interesting topic. May I type in Chinese? There are some expressions about animals in Taiwan.

  • Steven

    The animal similes are interesting. 🙂
    There are a few animal similes in Vietnamese that I want to share.
    1) Crocodile: ” Nước mắt cá sấu ” . The first 2 words “nuoc mat” is tears ( literally eye-water) and “ca sau” is Vietnamese for crocodile. ( On a side note, the Korean word for crocodile is “ak eo”. In Sino-Vietnamese, crocodile is ” ngạc ngư ” which makes it easier for me to remember the Korean word for crocodile). Therefore the 4 words above means crocodile tears which relates to a person being fake/deceitful/ not truthful.

    2) Duck: ” Như nước đổ đầu vịt ” which literally means “like the water being poured on a duck’s head”. The fur on the duck’s head is thick and slippery in which pouring water on the duck head’s will just make the water to slide off the head rather than stick to the fur. It implies that regardless of how hard you try to explain matters to a person, that person seems to not understand of what you are saying due to them being slow to understand or are just stupid. It can also refer to a person who is thick headed in a way as they know what you are saying but still do it anyway.

    3) Elephant: ” Được voi đòi tiên” . “Được” means to get/to obtain. ” voi” means elephant, “đòi” to want something. ” tiên” is a fairy. So the sentence is: Already have an elephant and asking for a fairy. You can use the above expression when someone is being greedy in which they are not happy with what they got so they ask for more things.

    4) Fox: “hồ ly tinh” is the Vietnamese word for “huli jing” which means ” fox spirit” in Chinese in which it can transform into a beautiful woman with high attractive power. In modern society, ” hồ ly tinh” is referred to a woman who seduces a married man or a man that is already in a relationship. In other words, it refers to a woman who is the “third person” in a relationship.

    Those are just some of the animal similes. There are many more and will post them up when I have the chance. 🙂

  • Satoko

    안녕하세요! 저는 일본에 살고있는 사토코라고합니다.
    Today, I have a question to ask Hyojin선생님.
    What are ㅋㅋㅋㅋ,ㄷㄷㄷㄷㄷ, 허허허허orㅎㅎㅎㅎ?
    like ㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋ아까다끝났어용~~~ㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋ
    Whyㅇcomes under요, and it is sometimes ㅋ, such as 훈력햇죠뭨
    한국사람은 자주 그렇게 쓰죠?
    I hope you’ll answer my question.


  • Anna

    In Russia, “clacking like a chicken” is referred to bunch if women talking loudly:)
    A guy who’s cheating on his girlfriend is often referred to as “March cat” (that’s when they go around apparently).
    “Singing like a canary (or nightingale) is referred to a smooth talker or sometimes a lier

  • Gene

    I have a question for Hyojin.

    I was trying to right my name and my wife’s name in Hangul, but they don’t work well, and seem to violate a lot of rules or have sounds not really found in it.
    My name is Gene, spoken ‘Jeen’, and 진 is the best I could do.
    My wife’s name is Lisa, and we couldn’t get an L sound at the front.

    I noticed that Korean people sometimes have ‘English Names’ like 수 지 becoming Suzy.
    Are there any Korean names close to Gene and Lisa?
    Also, why do Korean names seem to always have 3 syllables, is this a custom or is there a certain reason for it? I would like to know all about Korean naming customs.

    당신의 시간을 주셔서 감사 합니다

  • Daniel

    In Czech, we say that a woman is a cat (kočka)* when she’s hot. (석진 씨, you wrote in an earlier comment that you haven’t heard of a simile about a cat before, so here you go.)

    When we say that someone is a pig (prase)*, it means that he or she is very unclean, either when he/she eats in a very err…inappropriate way, e.g. with his or her hands or when he/she just generally doesn’t care about being clean, for example not taking a shower very often, etc…

    *We don’t say that someone is like a cat/pig/whatever, we say that someone IS a cat/pig/whatever.

  • Jessica P.

    우와! This video was really informative! I was surprised to see what these similes were. In fact, in my favorite Korean variety show (you guys can probably guess what it is), one of guys in the show is sometimes called 호랑이. I thought it was because he strong, but after watching this, the name suits him even more! But now I feel bad because another one of the characters is called 개…

    Also, other animal similes nobody has mentioned yet (in the U.S):
    – When someone is presented with a challenge and they refuse to do it, others would often call them a chicken, saying that they’re too scared to do it.
    – When someone is called a sheep, it means that they follow whatever other people are doing, but if you say someone is sheepish, it means they’re shy.
    – When someone is called a sloth, it means they’re really slow, either physically or mentally.

  • Meji

    Hi! I’m Meji from Thailand. We have these kinds of animal similes too. In Thailand, we called dumb people buffaloes (kwai) and dogs(mah) are for when we insult the person who we don’t like. Pigs(moo) are for fat people. For children who like to eat while lying down, they call them snakes(gnu) because one day the child will have no back bone like a snake (the ancients don’t know snakes have backbones. hahaha). Monkeys(ling) are for people, often children, who are very hyper active. Rhinoceros(Rad) are for insulting women who did something very inappropriate sometimes associated with males. As for gays, we called them Geng gwang which generally means deers because they walk and act like them: turn the face upwards and walk with twitch bottom which is quite funny for comparing. lol. As for the most rude insulting word, it is the monitor lizard(hia)! I don’t know why we say that but it is considered very rude. Friends who are very close, often boys, would called each other that way.
    I hope you learn more from my sharing!!!