못 먹는 감

The other day, my husband and I were listening to the Melon playlist in the car together, and my ears perked up at a curious phrase: 못 먹는 감. I was so excited because if I’d heard this song earlier in my Korean studies, it would have just slipped past me.  This is why I love listening to Korean music–I seem to hear and pick up on different things each time.  Anyway, I understood the phrase to mean, “the 감 (persimmon) you can’t eat” but it seemed like there was more to it than my basic translation. So I asked my husband to explain.

못 먹는 감 comes from the idiom 못 먹는 감 찔러나 본다, which is kind of tough to explain. It essentially means to pierce the 감 that you can’t eat. 찔리다 means to get/be pierced or poked. I don’t understand the grammar of 찔러나 본다, but idioms can’t be understood by simply translating and breaking down the grammar. My husband instead focused on explaining the meaning behind this seemingly bizarre phrase.

Essentially, 못 먹는 감 찔러나 본다 is rough equivalent to the English expression, “sour grapes”. Just as the phrase “sour grapes” refers to someone who is bitter because they can’t get something they want (grapes, in the original fable), the Korean idiom uses the persimmon to stand for the object of desire. However, a small difference is that in the Korean idiom, you know you can’t have it but you still give it a try (poking at it).

My husband told me that people often use this phrase in the situation where a guy is trying to get a girl who is just way out of his league, just trying anyway even though he knows he’ll fail. So the song which started this whole discussion (못 먹는 감 by 산이 & 매드클라운), is describing someone doing just this. The song is about completely striking out, and the girl in question becomes a case of “inedible persimmon” to the narrator.

So interesting. Aren’t you SO INTERESTED???! Why aren’t you as interested in this as I am? Ugh I could really go for a persimmon right about now.

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