Yesterday was a planning day at work for my team. On planning days, I order out for lunch. I met the deli guy at the door.
“Is this that school President Obama came to?”
I nodded, “Yes, it is.”
“Did you get to meet him?”
“Yes, actually, I did.”
“What’s he like?” the man said, excitedly.
“He was taller than I expected. Firm handshake, well-spoken, friendly.”
“That’s so neat…wow.”
When we were in Minnesota, during our day trip to the North Shore, Mom pointed out the hospital I was born in. Saint Mary’s. Good Man said, “Saint Mary? I was born at 성모 카톨릭 병원—Saint Mary’s in Incheon.”
Well, if they ever ask that question at a USCIS (INS) interview, we’re good to go.
I had a flash realization about a minor point in Korean today. I asked Good Man what “murderer” was.
“살인자,” he said. Salinja. “murder person person.”
I thought for a moment. “[Good Man]. 인 and 자 both mean people.”
“But it seems like 인 is more like…a person who is an object, or who just is. But 자 is more like someone who does something, who acts.”
Good Man paused, “Hmmm, yes.”
There are some exceptions, of course but 인/人 is used for words like Korean, foreigner, black person, and blind person. (Also some words I would consider agent words, like criminal or soldier.) 자/者 is used more often for words like winner, scholar, reader, and geographer.
I felt slightly brilliant when I realized there’s a difference in the roots.