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The Many Meanings of “(Korean) Crow Tit” DEMYSTIFIED

The Many Meanings of “(Korean) Crow Tit” DEMYSTIFIED
 
When you are looking up “Korean Crow Tit” on the internet, you will find this lovely, fluffy bird here. However, this bird is actually a long-tailed tit and no crow tit.

And this is where our interesting story about the so-called “Korean Crow Tit” and its manyfold meanings begins…

In the story of Alice in Wonderland, a white rabbit leads Alice down a rabbit hole and into a whole new world, a world that forces Alice to see things differently and to learn a little more about herself.

Words are very similar to Alice’s white rabbit: They lead us down different paths, and when we follow them, we realize that they can be windows to entirely new and different worlds.

Some words teach us about our history, giving us a better idea of where we come from, whereas other words offer us a glimpse of how other cultures live their lives.

Today’s word, crow tit, is a perfect example of a word that will lead us down a rabbit hole. And, when we emerge, we will have learned a lot about Korean culture.

Korean Saying Crow Tit

 

What does crow tit mean?

Even though the word crow tit has a fixed meaning, its usage, particularly within Korean culture, has changed and evolved over time. Originally, crow tit referred to a small, puffy bird; however, after being used in a Korean proverb, the term crow tit came to refer to someone who is trying too hard to fit in by becoming something they aren’t. Using this latter meaning, the Korean band BTS released a song where they called themselves baepsae, which is the Korean name for a crow tit. The song delves into some of South Korea’s social issues and explores how different generations view each other.

Let’s start our journey down the rabbit hole from the very beginning and see where it takes us from there.

 

Crow tit as a bird

Vinous Throated parrotbill

 

This is where things really get interesting. As we have seen earlier, baepsae is apparently the name for crow tit. However, not everyone agrees to that.

Many claim that the correct translation of bapsae is actually parrotbill, namely vinous-throated parrotbill, rather than (Korean) crow tit. 

Moreover, it seems that Korean Crow Tit as a translation of bapsae is actually refering to the long-tailed tit rather than an actual crow tit.

So to put it simple: (Korean) Crow Tit, as a translation for bapsae, seems to be just a nickname for the long-tailed tit (Aegithalos caudatus).

So that’s it?

Almost! If you look up long-tailed tit, you will find this Wikipedia entry here. 

But wait a second…this bird is NOT even white like the bird in the featured image of this post!

Well, the thing is that the so-called “Korean Crow Tit is not just SOME long-tailed tit, but a very specific long-tailed tit.

Some people argue that the Korean Crow Tit is refering to the sub-species Aegithalos caudatus caudatus, while others think we are dealing with the species Shima Enaga, which is another sub-species of Aegithalos caudatus which can only be found in Hokkaido, Japan. 

Ok, things are getting a little bit out of hand here, right? But I guess you are getting the main picture…

If you would like to solve this mistery, just type in Korean crow tit and you will immediately find several pictures of that white, fluffy bird.

Is it a Shima Enaga or a Aegithalos caudatus caudatus? Let me know what you think in the comments!

 

The birth of a proverb

Animals have always inspired some of our most memorable proverbs.

Obviously, you know that “a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush,” and you are also aware that “a leopard cannot change its spots.”

You might even have heard that “birds of a feather flock together.” And, each one of these proverbs has something to teach us, both about ourselves and about the world around us.

Crow tits are no different.

In South Korea, there is a saying that goes like this: “If a crow tit walks like a stork, it will break its legs.”

The superficial meaning of this proverb is clear when we consider how pudgy and short crow tits are in comparison to their long-legged distant relatives, the storks.

And, at face value, the proverb seems to be saying that people who try to be something they are not are bound to hurt themselves, which isn’t a bad piece of wisdom to live by.

But, to truly understand the cultural significance of this proverb, we must take a closer look at South Korean culture first.

The Korean Crow Tit (Baepsae)
 

A quick dive into Korean culture

South Korea has been deeply influenced by Confucianism. Ergo, hierarchy is a very big deal over there: A person’s place in the social pecking order is defined by several things, including their age, gender, title or position, and salary.

So, the young must always show respect and humility towards their elders, and this respect can be displayed in a variety of ways, from simple gestures such as head bows to much more complicated forms of maintaining social etiquette.

And, in most matters, Koreans believe that they should always consult with the authority figures in their lives.

As a result of this over-reliance on hierarchy, people in South Korea are always trying to assess where they stand in the social order.

For instance, when meeting someone new for the first time, it is unusual for Koreans to ask direct questions that may be too personal for someone from the west; they may ask about a person’s age, salary, marital status, and so on.

And, the answers they get will probably dictate how the rest of the interaction will play out as it will inform them of what is expected of them towards this new person as well as what they should expect from this individual.

This strong influence of hierarchy is nothing new to anyone who has lived in Korea for a while as they have probably experienced it on more than one occasion.

If they have ever worked there, they have seen first-hand the kind of authority the boss commands: Their word is law, and one must respect their authority at all times.

Even in simple outings, something as simple as age could affect the whole dynamic of the excursion.

For instance, the youngest person in the group is expected to distribute the cutlery, hand out and collect the plates, and show deference to everybody else at all times.

On the other hand, even though the oldest person in the group is not expected to do any of the things just mentioned, they are expected to act as a shepherd of sorts for the rest of the group, offering to pay for the meal and making sure everyone has had enough to eat.

Before moving on, it is worth pointing out that this is a rigid hierarchal system, meaning that vertical leaps don’t happen and people are discouraged from pursuing such an endeavor.

This might be obvious in the case of age or title, where the position is earned by time or effort.

But, it is also the case for socioeconomic hierarchy, which is another way of saying that the rich are expected to stay rich whereas the poor are expected to remain poor.

 

Now, back to the proverb

If we take into account what we have just learned about Korean culture, the proverb “If a crow tit walks like a stork, it will break its legs” may start to take on a different meaning for us.

For one thing, a reasonable interpretation of the proverb is that if someone forgets their place in the social hierarchy and tries to emulate someone else higher up on the food chain, they are going to fail.

It’s not only a matter of don’t try to be something you’re not; it’s more of a statement that reminds you to never forget your place in the order of things.

Giving crow tit a new meaning:

Thanks to the proverb, crow tit took on a whole new meaning. It became used to refer to anyone who tries to walk like a stork but doesn’t have the legs for it.

In short, it meant try-hard or poser. For instance, if someone tried to act like they came from money, but it was apparent to everyone that they weren’t as affluent as they were pretending to be, said individual would be aptly described as a crow tit.

 

BTS and crow tit

Before looking at the song “Baepsae,” let’s get to know the band BTS first.

Who is BTS?

BTS, who also go by the name of the Bangtan Boys, are a Korean boy band comprised of seven members.

They started out back in 2010, writing and producing their own music rather than relying on big industry labels.

Their debut album came out in 2013. They are managed by the entertainment company Big Hit Entertainment, which was also responsible for bringing the band together in the first place.

Today, BTS is one of the biggest bands in the world. They are no strangers to the number one spot on iTunes in more than 65 countries.

They also have tens of millions of subscribers on Youtube.

Moreover, when they topped the US album charts, they were the first K-pop band to do so.

None of this is to mention that the band frequently plays to sold-out shows in London and the US, and they don’t only perform for fans: In 2018, the band addressed the United Nations, becoming the first K-pop group to enjoy such an honor.

There are many reasons behind BTS’s meteoric success, but the main one is their music.

In addition to the fact that there is a rising global demand for K-pop music, the band itself is known for releasing catchy songs that fans everywhere go crazy for.

More importantly, the band chooses interesting subjects and lyrics for their songs that go beyond the simple love ballads that talk about relationships; BTS covers several topics including bullying, elitism, and problems with Korean culture.

Even their latest album, entitled “Love Yourself: Answer,” shows the breadth of topics the band is willing to explore.

The band has several successful songs. In fact, if you ask BTS fans, also known as Army, what their favorite BTS song is, they’ll likely tell you “Winter Bear,” “4 o’clock,” “Scenery,” or “A Brand New Day.” Other popular songs by the band include “Spring Day,” “Stigma,” “DNA,” and of course “Baepsae.”

 

The crow tit song

As mentioned earlier, the word baepsae is Korean for crow tit.

In their song “Baepsae,” BTS discusses some of the social issues prevalent in South Korea, particularly in relation to how different generations see each other and to how people who come from privileged backgrounds view the underprivileged.

The song was released in 2015 as part of the band’s album “Not Today.”

It is worth pointing out that the song’s lyrics aren’t straight forward, making literal translation almost an impossibility.

In fact, most of BTS’s songs rely on metaphors and visual imagery, which is why they are beautiful but tough to translate to another language at the same time.

Nevertheless, let’s try to get a sense of what the song’s lyrics are talking about:

For starters, the song is based on the Korean proverb we discussed earlier: “If a crow tit walks like a stork, it will break its legs.”

We’ve already seen how this proverb is used to support the existing hierarchal structures in Korea.

It is the basis for the idea that the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor.

The song’s lyrics are quite telling of the struggles of the young generation, but before we can look into that, we have to make one last detour. We need to look at Korean history.

 

The history of South Korea

After the Second World War, Korea was partitioned and South Korea was established on the 15th of August, 1948.

The new country suffered a few setbacks given its tumultuous relationship with its upstairs neighbor, including the Korean War which took place on June 25, 1950.

Three years later, when the war was over and the dust had settled, South Korea gained a little more stability but suffered from internal turbulence, including changing rulers as well as shifting political systems that kept oscillating from democratic to autocratic and back again.

Nevertheless, despite all this chaos, South Korea has enjoyed remarkable economic growth over the past 60 years.

Up until the 1960s, the country’s economy was mostly dependent on agriculture, but South Korea was able to turn things around and by 2016 it was the 11th largest economy in the world based on gross domestic product, GDP for short.

In fact, during the 1970s South Korea’s GDP grew by around 10 percent, and during the 80’s the GDP growth rate was around 8.6 percent.

And, although the country has suffered a few economic setbacks along the way, including the financial crisis that hit in 1980, these numbers are still extraordinary.

To give you a reference frame, the United States, the largest economy in the world, hasn’t enjoyed growth even remotely close to this: Over the past half-century, the largest growth in GDP experienced by the US was in 1984, a bit more than 7 percent, but that year was preceded only two years earlier by an economic shrinkage of -1.8 percent, and the succeeding year, 1985, saw GDP growth of 4.17 percent only.

The point is that South Korea’s growth wasn’t just spectacular; it was consistently so.

However, things have slowed down for the Korean peninsula. In 2017, rather than outpacing everyone else, the economy grew by a meager 3.2 percent, which was much more in line with global numbers.

What’s more, the economy has been slowing down even further: In 2018, it grew only by 2.7 percent, and 2019 saw a meager growth of 2 percent.

At this point, you might be asking yourself what does any of this have to do with the word crow tit?

You came here to learn about a new word, and, suddenly, you found yourself reading about the economic history of South Korea.

How can the two possibly be related?

But, as mentioned earlier, words can lead us down rabbit holes, and crow tit is no different.

You might be startled by what you encounter in this specific rabbit hole, but, with a little patience, it will all make sense very soon.

 

Understanding how the Korean economy has affected its population

When an economy is booming, especially like South Korea’s did over the past half-century, things are great for everybody.

Almost anyone can get a job; there are countless investment opportunities going around; and starting your own successful business is relatively easy.

In short, when times are good, it is easy to get rich.

On the other hand, when the growth rates of an economy go down, things turn ugly.

The job market becomes much more competitive; investment opportunities become far and in-between; and start-ups fail much more frequently.

In short, acquiring wealth becomes that much more difficult.

Today, South Korea is reeling from the effects its changing economy has had on its population.

The older generation got to grow up while the economy was booming, which meant that not only did they have it easy, but that those ambitious enough were also able to become wealthy in spite of Korean tradition and culture.

In contrast, the younger generation, millennials and younger, grew up in an economy that was slowing down, which meant that they had to contend with worse conditions and an unwelcoming job market.

To make matters worse, plenty of Koreans from the older generation are oblivious to the effect both the culture and the turbulent economy has had on the younger generation.

Older Koreans, those who grew in prosperous times, blame the younger generation for being lazy and not putting in enough effort to make it in life.

At the same time, that same generation believes that unless you are born with a silver spoon in your mouth, you can’t make it big in life.

It is against this paradoxical backdrop that BTS released their song “Baepsae,” aka crow tit. Now, without further ado, let’s take a look at BTS’s song and inspect its lyrics together.

 

Baepsae or crow tit

In a nutshell, the song contrasts the earlier generations, the storks, who grew up in good times with the younger generation, the crow tits, who are struggling to make it in today’s economy.

This isn’t the first time BTS has broached this topic. In an earlier song, “Dope,” the band covered a similar topic when they talked about the Korean generation that has “given up on 3.”

In that song, they are talking about the young generation that, according to the older generation, has seemingly given up on relationships, marriage, and kids.

They then go on to talk about an even younger generation that has “given up on 5,” referring to the previous three as well as a social life and a house.

See what I mean about BTS’s lyrics being unique?

Anyway, in the song “Baepsae,” here are a few lines that stand out:

A line that is repeated multiple times in the song is “this generation was cursed at…”.

In actuality, the line means “this generation has had a hard time,” but the expression used is probably a slang term that comes from the Kyungsangdo dialect.

Another interesting line is “at part-time jobs, it’s passion pay.” If you are unfamiliar with what passion pay is, all you need to know is that it is not as good as it sounds.

Simply put, “passion pay” is when an employer tells you that you don’t need to get paid for a job because the enjoyment you get from the work should be enough; after all, you get to pad your resume with the job experience, so you should be happy to work for free.

This form of unpaid labor, as horrible as it may seem, is rampant in Korea.

To make matters even more interesting, the idea of passion pay is extremely relevant to BTS because the K-pop industry has a bad reputation for snubbing artists and paying them peanuts despite the amount of effort they put.

We’ve already discussed how the term crow tit in the song refers to the underprivileged generation that has had to suffer hard times.

However, using the term crow tit is especially apt for BTS because, when they started, they were signed with a small company and were competing against bands that were backed by much larger companies.

So, in a sense, they were like crow tits trying to walk like storks. The only difference is that rather than breaking their legs, they succeeded.

A recurring term in the song is “Noryuk,” which means effort in Korean.

This refers to the fact that adults have repeatedly told their children that they need to put in more and more effort if they are ever to succeed, regardless of whether this effort ever brings actual success.

By repeating this word and stressing it each time more and more, the band is trying to parody adults who insist that their children should exert a tremendous amount of effort even when pursuing hopeless goals that the children never wanted in the first place.

There are many other lines in the song worth looking into, but, given everything you’ve learned about Korean culture and history, you should be able to make sense of it on your own.

 

Coming out of the rabbit hole

It’s fascinating how a single word can lead us down so many paths.

We started with the word crow tit and looked at how a type of word inspired a certain proverb, which in turn became the basis for a successful pop song.

Along our journey, we’ve learned a little biology, taken a look at Korean culture, and have understood the ramifications of changing economic times.

And, herein lies the power of words: They can teach us a lot about the world around us should we find the courage to follow them.