Does 걸래는 빨아도 걸래다 have two meanings? Since 빨다 can be used both for "wash" and for "suck", does this also mean something about soaking up water as well as the more obvious meaning to wash in water?

  • In that sentence, 빨다 cannot be to suck; it must be to clean or wash. 걸레 (not 걸래) has two meanings. The second meaning could be offensive. You should provide more sentences or the context.
    – Klmo
    Jan 19, 2020 at 10:06
  • This is a 정한 속담, how can there be "more sentences or the context"? Anyway, i think you're right, it's just "no matter how much you wash a rag, it's still a rag", but they've never seen my mother in law do laundry! Jan 19, 2020 at 14:53
  • The context is always important; the same expression can be understood differently. These days, I feel that it is more of a slang rather than a proverb. In addition, "걸레는 빨아도 걸레다." is not a standard proverb, although 고려대 한국어대사전 has "걸레는 빨아도 걸레라" as a proverb. Anyway, what does 정한 속담 mean? I have never heard that term.
    – Klmo
    Jan 19, 2020 at 15:29
  • 1
    BTW, 빨다 as "suck" isn't exactly the same as English "suck": it is more like "to suck (at) something with mouth", and common objects include fingers (for a toddler), breastmilk, milk bottle, and lollipops. The motion of cloth absorbing water would be 흡수하다 or 빨아들이다, but never 빨다.
    – jick
    Jan 21, 2020 at 0:03

2 Answers 2


Does 걸래는 빨아도 걸래다 have two meanings?

Literally, it means 'the rag is still rag after wash'.

But more often, this is idiom states that 'You cannot undo what you have done'.

Also sometimes 걸레 refers to the women (or men as well, but less frequently) who is sexually active, somewhat like 'bitch' in english speaking countries.

Therefore this idiom sometimes used to offend someone who are considered to be sexually active.

I would say this is not very polite to say in public.

does this also mean something about soaking up water as well as the more obvious meaning to wash in water?

No. Here the semantic meaning of 빨다 is 'wash'.


It literally means "A rag is still a rag, even if you wash it".

빨다 here means "to wash (clothes)".

Figuratively, it means "No matter how hard you try to improve a thing in a certain way, its innate nature will not change".

However, 걸레 has another slang meaning, which translates to "slut". So the innocent looking sentence could also be interpreted as: "A slut is a slut even though it's been washed". Which is a totally inappropriate thing to say in most cases.

  • wow, good to know so as to use the phrase with care...in some contexts it might come out rude by accident. thanks Jan 24, 2020 at 19:23
  • +1 to being "totally inappropriate thing to say in most cases."
    – jick
    Jan 25, 2020 at 5:13

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