Dennis Rodman, the American basketball star who made a bizarre trip to North Korea in February, where he actually met and spent time with leader Kim Jong Un, has tweeted a request for Kim. Rodman asked the North Korean leader to release Kenneth Bae, an American citizen currently imprisoned in North Korea on spying charges. "Do me a solid and cut Kenneth Bae loose," he wrote.
I'm calling on the Supreme Leader of North Korea or as I call him "Kim", to do me a solid and cut Kenneth Bae loose.
— Dennis Rodman (@dennisrodman) May 7, 2013
Kim appears to be a basketball fanatic and a sincere Rodman fan. So while Rodman's appeal is unlikely to lead to Bae's release (Kim is likely seeking concessions from the United States), it's reasonable to suspect that the North Korean leader might actually hear about this tweet.
But how do you translate a uniquely American colloquialism like "do me a solid"? The answer is actually pretty interesting.
T.K. Park, a D.C.-based professional who also runs the popular and often-insightful blog Ask A Korean, says that the phrase is best rendered in Korean as 내 얼굴을 봐서 케네스 배를 석방해달라. That translates literally to "Look at my face and release Kenneth Bae."
"Look at my face," Park says, is a Korean expression that's like a special, for-friends-only version of "do me a favor." It's an expression you use with friends and for favors that they might not otherwise be willing to do. It carries, Park says, "the implication that someone will do that favor purely based on his personal relationship with you."
Idioms can say a great deal about the languages and cultures they come from. While it would be too much to draw conclusions about the differences between American and Korean culture just based on how this one expression is translated, it's interesting that the American version emphasizes the generosity and reliability of the "solid" favor-giver, while the Korean version emphasizes the close relationship between the favor-giver and favor-receiver, with the former told to look "at the face" of the latter.
Or maybe it's just that there's no clear Korean version of "do me a solid" and "look at my face" happens to be the closest approximation. Either way, Park says, most Korean outlets have sidestepped the question by simply translating Rodman's request as "do me a favor." Although, as any Americans who have ever done or received a solid can tell you, it's more than just a favor.