Age Idioms – Korean Idioms #31

In Korea, there are some idioms that indicate ages. Let's see them one by one.

불혹, 지천명

불혹 means 40 and 지천명 means 50. These words came from the book, Lun Wen by Confucius. Confucius said:

I made up my mind to study in 15 and my will became steadfast in 30. In 40, I wasn't deceived. In 50, I realized the calling of Heaven. In 60, I could understand the real intention when others talk to me. In 70, I didn't do anything wrong even if I do as I like.

From this, the words for age came out.
지우학(志于學), making one's mind to study, indicates 15.
이립(而立), will becoming steadfast, indicates 30.
불혹(不惑), not being deceived, indicates 40.
지천명(知天命), knowing the calling of Heaven, indicates 50.
이순(耳順), understanding the real intention of people, indicates 60.
종심(從心), following one's mind, indicates 70.

Among them, 불혹 meaning 40 and 지천명 meaning 50 are used a lot. Other words are not used much. Other 4 words are usually shown in some quiz shows. It is hard to find the usage even in newspapers.

불혹을 넘긴 나이임에도 그녀는 아름답다.
Even though she is over 40, she is still beautiful.

지천명을 바라보는 나이임에도 그 성우는 자주 소녀 역을 맡는다.
Although she is near 50, she still plays the voice of teenage girls.

환갑, 칠순, 팔순

If you become 60, it is called 환갑(還甲). In old Korea, the age is counted with 10 letters of 천간 and 12 letters of 지지. As the least common multiple of 10 and 12 is 60, the letters of 천간 and 지지 come back after 60 years for everyone. So, it is called 환갑, returned 갑, and 갑 is the first character of 천간.

Long ago, Koreans threw a party for those who became 60, or 환갑 to celebrate long life. However, most people live more than 60 these days. We don't do that these days. Instead, they do that in 칠순 and 팔순.

칠순 means 70 and 팔순 means 80 as 순 means 10.

I said words, 이순, 종심 and they are TV quiz show words. However, 환갑, 칠순, 팔순 are really common.

그 교수님은 환갑이 넘으신 나이에도 연구에 열중이시다.
That professor is still enthusiastic about research even though he is over 60 now.

칠월 칠일은 평창친구 칠순 잔칫날.
July 7th is the 70th birthday of my friend in 평창.

It is one of the famous tongue twister in Korean.

오늘은 할머니의 팔순 잔칫날이다.
Today is the party for my grandmother's 80th birthday.

약관, 방년, 희수, 미수, 백수, 상수

Some of you might be interested in some hard quiz words. Here are some more:

약관: 20 for male
방년: 20 for female
희수(喜壽): 77
미수(米壽): 88
백수(白壽): 99
상수(上壽): 100

In these words, 희수, 미수, 백수 got their name thanks to their 한자 character. 희수 became 77 because old 한자 of 희(喜) looked like 3 characters of 7(七). As there is 2 8(八)'s and 1 10(十) in 미(米), 미수 became 88. As 백(白) is 100(百) – 1(一), it's 99.

These age words are usually used with verbs or markers like these:

When you are exactly that age, it is used with "의" like 불혹의 투수(pitcher of 40), 불혹의 나이(age of 40).
When your age is approaching near a word, it is used with the verb, 바라보다(looking at) like 지천명을 바라보는 나이(the age almost 50).
When your age is over a word, it is used with the verb, 넘기다 like 불혹을 넘긴 나이(over 40).


This word is not in dictionary, but it is used a lot in 20s. It means becoming over 25. When you become 25, you are now half 50. So, your power and other abilities are starting to wane. The verb, 꺾이다, is used to describe decreased power. That's why this word is for 25.

25살 됐다고 다 꺾이는 건 아니야.
Not every over 25 years old has weakened power.