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Is '잘 먹고 잘 살아' necessarily sarcastic, or can it be said tenderly?

Is it only ever said between romantic couples breaking up?

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  • It means "I don't give a flying f... If you die from starvation" nuance: "you're nothing to me anymore". – mikeejim reynolds Apr 10 '20 at 10:37
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When you intend a tender, caring goodbye, you say 잘 살아...or 잘 살아라.. 잘 살기 바래..잘 살아야한다..등을 사용. But, when you say to someone 잘 먹고 잘 살아 .. yes, it is sarcastic and can be used in any relationship. e.g.) When the owner of the company you work for doesn't treat his or her employees generously, you can say to your boss (of course, behind his back) 그래, 잘 먹고 잘 살아라.. 언제가는 배 터져 죽을 날이 올거다, meaning that someday, your belly will explode (from overeating 너무 많이 먹어서, 과식해서- of course metaphorically) and die.

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I believe it is can be said tenderly with the meaning that you won't be able to see that person again so you hope they will take good care of themselves. But I think it's better for this sentence to be said by older people to younger people, not the other way around, or in the case of romantic couples, by the guy to the girl.

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As others said, I think it's commonly used to show anger against someone selfish: something like "Fine, you have it your way, and have a happy life 'cause I'm outta here!"

Here 먹다 can be understood not as literally eating, but for taking stuff just for oneself, in a selfish manner (or against rules).

For comparison, also consider that 먹다 can be used as an auxiliary verb to (somewhat rudely) indicate doing something for oneself. E.g.,

혼자서 다 해 먹는구나. = [He] is taking it all for himself.

뇌물을 받아먹은 정치인 = A politician who accepted bribes

니들이 팔아먹은 인공위성 = The artificially satellite that you guys sold (to profit yourselves)

  • The last one is an actual phrase used by people talking about the scandal of KT (Korea Telecom) selling a communications satellite at dirt-cheap price to a foreign buyer years ago: everybody suspected kickbacks but (I think) nobody went to jail. People were pretty upset about it.

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