This is an Advanced Idiomatic Expressions lesson related to 머리, the head or hair. In order to fully understand and use the expressions introduced in this series, it is essential that you understand the grammatical structure of the sentences. When you come across a grammar point that you are unfamiliar with, please go back and review the related lessons.
머리 = head, hair
1. 머리가 좋다/나쁘다 = to be smart/stupid
(좋다 = to be good, 나쁘다 = to be bad)
→ The literal translation is that your “head” is good or bad, but the natural translation is that someone is “smart” or “not smart”. Instead of 머리가 나쁘다, you can also say 머리가 안 좋다.
Ex) 그 사람은 머리는 좋은데 노력을 안 해요.
= He is smart, but he doesn’t make any effort.
2. 머리를 쓰다 = to use one’s brain; to think (as opposed to just act); to do brain work
→ 머리를 쓰다 is often used when thinking things through as opposed to just acting spontaneously without thinking too much. This phrase can also mean “to have the intelligence to do things in a smart or efficient way”.
Ex) 힘으로만 하지 말고 머리를 좀 써 보세요.
= Don’t try to do it just by strength, but think a little bit (about how to solve this problem).
3. 머리를 굴리다 = to put one’s brain to work; to use one’s head to try to find a solution to a problem
(굴리다 = to roll something)
→ 머리를 굴리다 literally means “to roll one’s head”, but when used in context, it means “to try to come up with a solution to a problem by putting one’s brain to work”. This is a rather casual expression, so it can be considered rude to use it about or to someone older than you are.
Ex) 아무리 머리를 굴려 봐도 답이 안 나와요.
= No matter how hard I try (to think of a solution), I can’t find an answer (or solution).
4. 잔머리(를) 굴리다 = to think of petty tricks (to get oneself out of a situation)
(잘다 = little, small, fine)
→ 잔머리(를) 굴리다 is similar to 머리를 굴리다, but by adding the word 잔 (adjective form of 잘다, meaning “little” or “small”) to 머리, you add the nuance of “petty tricks” or “trying to find shortcuts/lazy ways to get out of a situation”. Just like 머리를 굴리다, this is not appropriate to use to someone you need to show respect for or be formal with.
Ex) 잔머리 굴리지 말고 열심히 일해!
= Stop trying to find ways to work less. Just work hard.
= Don’t think of petty tricks to not work. Get your work done.
5. 머리가 깨질 것 같다 = to have a very bad headache; to have a splitting headache
(깨지다 = to break)
It doesn’t mean that your head is really going break or split; it just means that you have a really bad headache. You can also say “머리가 깨질 것처럼 아파요”, the literal meaning of which is “my head hurts as if it’s going to be broken.”
Ex) 어제 술을 너무 많이 마셔서 오늘 머리가 깨질 것처럼 아파요.
= I drank too much yesterday, so I have a splitting headache today.
6. 머리가 (잘) 안 돌아가다 = can’t think well; can’t think straight; one’s brain is slow
(돌아가다 = to go around, to go back, to spin)
When you say that your brain or head “spins” (in Korean), just like a motor or a hard drive in a computer, it means that your brain “works” or that you are thinking. So when you say that your brain “doesn’t spin very well”, you mean that you can’t think clearly, straight, or well for the moment.
Ex) 피곤해서 머리가 안 돌아가요. 바람 좀 쐬고 올게요.
= I’m tired so I can’t think straight. I’ll go get some fresh air.
7. 머리가 복잡하다 = can’t think straight; to have a lot of concerns in one’s head
(복잡하다 = to be complicated, to be complex)
When someone says that his or her “head” is “complicated” in Korean, you can assume that it means a lot of thoughts and concerns are cluttering the person’s brain. 머리가 복잡하다 usually has a negative connotation, so be careful when you use it!
Ex) 요즘에 걱정되는 일이 많아서 머리가 복잡해요.
= I am worried about a lot of things these days, so my head is full of concerns.
8. 머리를 스치다 = an idea (or thought) that flashes through one’s mind
(스치다 = to graze, to brush past)
스치다 is originally “to graze” or to “brush past”. When you walk past someone and your shoulder touches the other person’s shoulder very lightly, you use the verb 스치다. Therefore, when an idea (아이디어) or a thought (생각) occurs to you, you can say 머리를 스치다.
Ex) 재미있는 생각이 머리를 스쳤어요.
= I just thought of an interesting idea.
= An interesting idea just flashed through my head.
9. 머리가 멍하다 = one’s mind is blank; to be disoriented
If you find yourself in a situation where your mind goes completely blank due to any number of reasons, whether it be stress, confusion, or fatigue, you can say “머리가 멍하다” in Korean to express your situation.
Ex) 여기 너무 시끄러워서 머리가 멍해요.
= It’s so noisy here that I can’t think.
10. 머리가 띵하다 = to feel dizzy; one’s brain feels numb
You can use 머리다 띵하다 for when you feel dizzy as well as when you have a headache that makes your brain feel numb.
Ex) 갑자기 일어섰더니 머리가 띵 해요.
= I stood up suddenly and I feel dizzy.
11. 머리가 크다 = to start thinking like a grown-up and making mature judgements.
(크다 = to be big, to grow up)
You can say “머리가 크다” about a person whose head is big, but you can also use the word 크다 to mean “to grow up”. In this case, 머리가 크다 means “to start thinking like a grown-up” or “to feel like someone has grown up and does not want to listen to what older people tell him/her”.
Ex) 이제 애들이 머리가 커서 말을 안 들어요.
= The children have grown, so now they don’t listen to what I say.