How quickly they grow

So this came up last night:

I thought at first it was something like the old Chinese saw about “you’re one year old the day you’re born,” but that couldn’t be right, could it?

Well, no, not exactly:

Koreans generally refer to their age in units called sal, using Korean numerals in ordinal form. Thus, a person is one sal during the first calendar year of life, and ten sal during the tenth calendar year.

The 100th-day anniversary of a baby is called baegil, which literally means “a hundred days” in Korean, and is given a special celebration, marking the survival of what was once a period of high infant mortality. The first anniversary of birth named dol is likewise celebrated, and given even greater significance. Koreans celebrate their birthdays, even though every Korean gains one ‘sal’ on New Year’s Day. Because the first year comes at birth and the second on the first day of the lunar New Year, a child born, for example, on December 29 (of the lunar calendar) will reach two years of age on Seollal (Korean New Year), when they are only days old in western reckoning.

For the record, Lee Min-ho was born on 22 June 1987. We’d call him twenty-eight.



  1. LeeAnn »

    25 June 2015 · 7:03 am

    Since this basically is math, and consequently in that particular personal wheelhouse where the wheel isn’t invented yet, I feel confident to maintain, nay, insist, that my age is 29. In dog years, which I do understand, I would be dead. I like Korean Age better.

  2. fillyjonk »

    25 June 2015 · 7:46 am

    Heh. I went to high school with a number of Korean-American kids. I didn’t know about Korean Age, but I did learn about Korean names.

    Most of the kids were born here to Korean-American (in some cases, second-gen themselves) parents, so they all had American first names. One day a group of the kids were talking, and one of them (Bill) was being questioned by another (Jenny). “What’s your Korean name?” she asked. “I don’t have one,” Bill responded, “William is the name on my birth certificate.”

    “No, silly,” responded Jenny, “What does your GRANDMOTHER call you?”

    I thought that was an interesting cultural thing. (Turns out a lot of the Korean-American kids had Korean middle names, and in fact, that was what their grandmothers called them. I have no idea if that practice was widespread or limited to the group in my region but it seemed interesting to me.)

  3. Fausta »

    25 June 2015 · 8:22 am

    Now I can lie about my age in two cultures!

  4. McGehee »

    25 June 2015 · 10:05 am

    The above comments remind me of a Dave Berg comic many years ago in Mad. A reporter was doing a story on a local centenarian and went to interview a neighbor lady of hers who thought all the fuss was misplaced. “She lies about her age,” she informed the reporter.

    “You mean she’s not really 100 years old?” he asks, aghast.

    “Nowhere near it,” affirms the neighbor. “She’s 102.”

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