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I heard quite often Korean people say "약방의 감초" which literally translates to "licorice (root) of drugstore (pharmacy)" to refer to a person or thing that is indispensable.

Where does this proverb come from and what does it mean exactly? Does it have a negative connotation?

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It's not bad! Traditional Korean medicines were really bitter, so people often put 감초 which made the medicines sweeter. So in every pharmacy(약방), there were a lot of licorice(감초). Gradually 약방의 감초 became an idiom meaning an indispensable thing or person.

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    It could be used to refer someone who is annoyingly nosy about everything. ko.wiktionary.org/wiki/… – Q20 Jul 1 '16 at 11:01
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    I agree with the answer. I have to oppose to the wiktionary. I have never heard it being used to refer someone who is annoyingly nosy about everything. But it neither means something fundamental. It means something needed always, but not necessarily the most important. – Hoseung Choi Oct 26 '16 at 18:31

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