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I'd like to know about the meaning and usage of 마지노선. Of course, I know that this literally means Maginot Line, but I also know it must have another meaning for everyday conversation.

I saw this in a drama where they were talking about a man's face and lady 1 was telling lady 2 that he's so amazing and everything and telling lady 2 to start dating him. Then lady 1 seems uninterested and comments on his face saying '그 마지노선.. 그 정도?'

Thanks!

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This is a great example of how a historical/literary/cultural/geographical reference is picked up by another cultural sphere and takes on a life of its own.

La ligne Maginot, as the Encyclopedia Britannica states, is an:

elaborate defensive barrier in northeast France constructed in the 1930s and named after its principal creator, André Maginot, who was France’s minister of war in 1929–31.

According to Naver's edition of the 고려대 한국어대사전 (Korea University Korean Dictionary), the meaning of the Korean expression 마지노선 is (bold mine, not original):

어떤 일이나 사안에 대하여 받아들이거나 인정할 수 있는 최저의 한계선을 비유적으로 이르는 말.

... that is to say, the final line being the lowest acceptable standard. Although it is an educated "reference", I'd say it's in fairly common use, and I'd surmise that it's because it sounds similar to 마지막 선 (a literal final line) in Korean.

In the media of modern France, though, it is not really used this way to refer to standards (someone from French StackExchange may correct me here!); instead, it is thought of as a reference for an obsolete barrier or distinction. For example, an article from Le Monde published in 2017:

Elle n’empêcha pas l’avancée des troupes allemandes, mobiles et rapides, en 1940. Témoignage pétrifié, vestige d’une fausse bonne idée, la ligne Maginot se visite.

Le clivage droite-gauche est-il aussi obsolète que le fut cette fortification hérissée de tourelles, de barbelés et de casemates ?

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  • Thanks a lot for the detailed explanation! Just to check I understood correctly, in the context of the drama I was watching lady 2 was commenting that the man's face was just 'the lowest standard/level' face show would consider dating (i.e. she could aim higher and get a better face man).So could you use 마지노선 when, say, talking about applying to universities and you've applied to a low-ranking university below your level just for 'insurance', referring to it as just '마지노선'? – KrJpnLinguistNoob Jul 3 at 1:17
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    @KrJpnLinguistNoob Although it depends on the context, it sounds more like the worst one(s) among the universities acceptable to you, the last one(s) that you won't regret entering. If your dream is too big, your current level might not be high enough. – Klmo Jul 3 at 3:55

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