Xu Shen 許愼 허신
's dictionary 《說文解字 설문해자
》 defines the word "owl 梟" as "An unfilial bird that eats its [own] mother. Thus at the winter solstice [we] catch and dismember them. The character comes from [the graphic elements of] a bird's head on top of a stick."
☞ 許: 허락할 허, 愼: 삼갈 신, 說: 말씀 설, 文: 글월 문, 解: 풀 해, 字: 글자 자.
So those Chinese folk somewhere got the idea that owls eat their own mothers, which is one of the greatest sins in the view of those who highly value the respect that offspring should show to their parents. We see the same cultural idea reflected in a graphic bit of verse
by 韓愈 한유
of the mid-Tang:
鴟梟啄母腦, The owl pecks it's mother's brains--
母死子始翻. Mother dies as offspring begins to fly.
☞ 鴟: 올빼미 치, 啄: 쪼을 탁, 母: 어미 모, 腦: 뇌 뇌,
死: 죽을 사, 子: 아들 자, 始: 비로소 시, 翻: 날 번.
This damns the owl to being a symbol for evil. As if that weren't enough, some cultural dictionaries say that the characteristic sound that the owl makes is heard by Chinese to be their word for "dig, dig" as in "dig a grave, 'cause this one's not going to make it." It's said to be the sound one hears right about the time you breathe your last. (Unfortunately I've only seen this in English
sources, so I don't know what the "dig" word they are refering to is.) Just to show I didn't make this up:
The hoot of the owl is much feared. It is said that when any one is going to die the owl is heard calling out, "Dig! dig!" Of course, they think it is telling them to dig the grave that will soon be needed, and they instantly expect the death of the sick man.
And this practice of dismembering them and placing their heads on pikes at the winter solstice in order to ward off evil adds another meaning to this word: to gibbet someone (actually the English gibbet usually refers to locking someone up in a cage like this one...
...to die and have their remains act as a deterrent to like-minded evildoers. In contrast, 梟首 효수 (note: that's usually a transitive verb, as in "owl's head that man!"
) refers specfically to posting only the head of an evil-doer in a public place...
☞ 首: 머리 수.
...for the same purpose.)
The last definition for this word in the small dictionary on my desk is "mountain peak," which must owe something to the macabre resemblance of the Oriental gibbet to a mountain. This combination reminds the Sanchon Hunjang of 切頭山 절두산
, or "Lopping-heads Mountain" in Seoul and the sad events that took place there
☞ 切: 끊을 절, 頭: 머리 두, 山: 메 산.
The word 梟 is also used to describe the character of 劉備 유비
in the 《三國(志)演義 삼국지
》 (I know
those don't read the same. Fact is that this book is called by different names in China and Korea. What can a poor Sanchon Hunjang do about such complications in the real world? But hey, Amazon is selling several translations of it
in English.), something like an "inappropriately aggressive hero figure." I suppose the logic must be something like "as long as he produces results, people will overlook his over-the-topness, but if he's not careful, he will end up with his head on a gibbet."
☞ 劉: 죽일 류, 備: 갖출 비, 三: 석 삼, 國: 나라 국, 演: 멀리 흐를 연, 義: 옳을 의, 志: 뜻 지