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노을, 마음에 드네

Written By: daveski on December 10, 2008 6 Comments

I was inspired by katie_k’s recent post about her favorite word in Russian, бессмысленный, and thought I’d add my own. For some reason I started hearing this word echo in my mind recently…I don’t know why it is that it resonates so much with me. It wasn’t written in a poem that I read about the end of an era; it wasn’t whispered in my ear as I watched the sun go down; nor does it sound like a word I know in the other fragments of language that move through my head.

Yet here it is:

… ㄴ = the consonant “n”, and ㅗ = the vowel “oh”, so the first syllable sounds like the English “no”.

… ㅇ = a placeholder, not pronounced; ㅡ = the vowel “eu”, a “u” sound pronounced like you’re smiling, with a long narrow mouth; ㄹ = “l” or “r” or somewhere in between. So the second syllable is “eul”.

Say them together and it’s a two-syllable word, no-eul. The glow in the sky after sunset, or before dawn. Dusk, twilight, these words are close. But isn’t it amazing that one word, 노을, can describe the morning or night? The glow is the same.

Actually, we all know that it’s not the same at all. Yahoo’s Korean dictionary defines scenes so particular that we might feel we’ve seen such things only in the movies:

  • 하늘에 빛을 발하는 이상한 노을이 있었다 = There was a strange luminescent glow in the sky
  • 하늘의 붉은 노을 = a ruddy glow in the sky 

I have images in my head of the sunsets and sunrises that it evokes; they’re not necessarily the stuff of postcards, to be sure. I see the sun, the remnants of the sun, a sliver of the sun, a split second glimpse through a few high rise buildings; settling into the haze above the rough peaks off to the west; oranges, reds, yellows melting into a grey sea with the silhouettes of a few ships visible in the distance. Sunsets and sunrises, beginnings and ends, brought together in this one word, never ceasing to give pause for reflection and, yes, beautiful wherever, whenever I see them. Is that because when we’re looking at one, we’re also seeing the other?

노을. Sometimes shortened to the one syllable, “놀”, though I was reprimanded once by a friend with exquisite literary sense for shortening it so brutishly. Just saying the word is pleasurable, the way the vowels flow into each other, and the way the word ends (or should I say, the word sets) into the final ㄹ, a warm fade-away before the next word rises.

Here it is in a song, one of the first songs that introduced me to the Korean language, Yoon Jong Shin (윤종신 )’s “이층집 소녀” (The girl from the 2-story house). He sets the scene in the first line before he sings the song of his childhood love:

저녁 교회 종소리 노을에 퍼지고… (The sound of the church bells spreads throughout the evening dusk…)

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6 Responses to “노을, 마음에 드네”

  1. Jean on: 10 December 2008 at 7:27 am

    노을…I like the word too and I like 노을. 노을 is so beautiful that I always watch it for a while whenever I see it. The best 노을 for me is the 노을 that I see through the window of an airplane. Whenever I fly to California from Korea, I see extremely beautiful 노을 which has cardinal reds, oranges, and yellows. When 노을 becomes almost a line, the color of 노을 and the sky are exceptionally beautiful!

  2. katie_k on: 11 December 2008 at 3:06 pm

    That is a very happy post! Now I will go around trying to pronounce it with a big smile, both because it’s a nice word and because it should help me to say it correctly.

  3. daveski on: 12 December 2008 at 1:03 pm

    Jean – yeah it’s amazing isn’t it, the beauty of the noeul from an airplane window. I wonder if part of that is because there are NO buildings up there getting in the way. Though for me a big part of the experience is being outside and smelling the air, something that’s hard at 30,000 feet. 🙂

    Katie – yeah, try saying it while smiling to speakers of Korean and see what they say…

  4. christy on: 27 March 2009 at 9:52 am

    붉게 물드는 노을…
    울퉁불퉁하게 깔린 자갈을 밟으며 기찻길을 따라 터벅터벅 걷다.. 어느덧 도착한 작은 교회.
    저녁 교회 종소리가 울리는 그곳에서 내가 그리던 수줍은 이층집소녀를 만날수 있을거라는 상상… ^^


  5. Jinah on: 14 August 2010 at 8:59 am

    모국어를 새롭게 듣는 기회는 흔한게 아닌데, 좋은 글이군요. 특히 ㄹ 의 여운을 드러낸 부분은 정말 대단해요!

    There is one more beautiful image you can picture using 노을.
    “She blushed like 노을.” (usually out of happiness or womanly modesty)

  6. daveski on: 1 September 2010 at 10:08 am

    @Jinah: Glad you liked it, and the part about ㄹ … I wish I could hear the sounds in my native language like I hear (or used to be able to hear?) the sounds of languages that are newer to me. I wonder if our relationship to the sounds of a language is like the waves, moving in and out: sometimes we can hear the sounds as sounds, and sometimes their form is further away from us, and it’s only the meaning that passes through our ears. I dunno!

    I’ve never heard an expression like “She blushed like 노을”. How do you say it in Korean?

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