In English, we have a variety shapes ready at hand to describe things so our listeners can more easily understand complex abstractions, especially involving shapes. Some of these shapes are geometric (square, triangle, circle, cone, sphere). Others come in the form of accepted symbols. Thus there is no shortage of shape metaphors like a "y-intersection," or a "t-intersection." Those moving 180º turns that you see cop cars do in the movies are "j-turns" and you will have to practice on an "s-curve" and memorize when "u-turns" are allowed if you want to get your drivers' licence.
Korean, since they have their own alphabet, also have the tools for this type of shape-based metaphor. It is not difficult to hear people talk about things as being 니은 모양 or 디귿 모양. There is even that 속담 that goes "낫 놓고 기역자도 모른다," and means "can't even see the obvious."
Chinese doesn't have anything corresponding to letters, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that they do the same thing on the basis of whole words, since that's all they've got to work with.
We get things like 十 used for a plus shape and 一 used for a straight line shape, like you see in screwdrivers: 십자 드라이버 and 일자 드라이버. Indeed, a cross is a "十字架 plus-shaped rack." There is also 丫 that gets used to represent the shape "y." And if you see someone lying down, asleep, with their arms and legs spread
, Koreans say they are "큰 대자로 누웠다 Lying in the shape of 大."
☞ 十: 열 십, 一: 한 일, 字: 글자 자, 架: 시렁 가, 丫: 가닥 아.
Given the wealth of Chinese characters, there is even more possibility for this kind of visual metaphor.
In the past, the Sanchon Hunjang has cited several poems attributed to 김삿갓
(1807~1863). Kim is not famous for high-brow literature, but his verses and the stories that accompany them are entertaining. Here is a "poem composed in description of something 詠物詩" that is attributed to 김. Its admittedly not politically correct, but he lived in an age with different values. Why not see if you can guess what he is describing, while we're at it...
☞ 詠: 읊을 영, 物: 만물 물, 詩: 시 시.
人皆平直爾何然, People are all level and upright, why are you like this:
項在胸中膝在肩. With your neck in the middle of your chest and knee at your shoulder?
回首不能看白日, If you turn your head, you are still unable to see the bright sun;
側身僅可見青天. When you tilt your body you barely can see the blue heavens.
臥如心字無三點, Lying down, you are as 心, without the three dots;
立似弓形小一絃. Standing, you are like the shape of a bow, without the one string.
慟哭千湫歸去路, After your thousand autumns of sad crying, when you depart on the road back,
也應棺郭用團圓. The shape of coffin you use will also have to be round.
☞ 人: 사람 인, 皆: 모두 개, 平: 평평할 평, 直: 곧을 직, 爾: 너 이, 何: 어찌 하, 然: 그럴 연,
項: 목덜미 항, 在: 있을 재, 胸: 가슴 흉, 膝: 무릎 슬, 肩: 어깨 견
回: 돌 회, 首: 머리 수, 能: 능할 능, 看: 볼 간, 白: 흴 백, 日: 해 일,
側: 곁 측, 身: 몸 신, 僅: 겨우 근, 可: 옳을 가, 見: 볼 견, 青: 푸를 청, 天: 하늘 천,
臥: 누울 와, 如같을 여, 心: 마음 심, 無: 없을 무, 三: 석 삼, 點: 점 점,
立: 설 립, 似: 같을 사, 弓: 활 궁, 形: 형상 형, 小: 작을 소, 絃: 악기줄 현,
慟: 서럽게 울 통, 哭: 울 곡, 千: 일천 천, 湫: 가을 추, 歸: 돌아갈 귀, 去: 갈 거, 路: 길 로,
也: 어조사 야, 應: 응할 응, 棺: 널 관, 郭: 외관 곽, 用: 쓸 용, 團: 둥글 단, 圓: 둥글 원.
If you guessed "a hunchback," you would be correct. In spite of the lack of sensitivity, his images of 心 without the three dots and a bow lacking its string are parallel, accurate and fresh imagery.
Kim is famous for having trapsed around the peninsula, writing verse that poked fun at people who needed to be brought down a notch or two, like pompous mountain village schoolmasters
. Here is a verse he composed about a 양반 who lived with his wife and concubine.
不熱不寒二月天, On a February day, when it is neither hot nor cold,
一妻一妾最堪憐. One wife and one concubine are easily the most pitiable.
鴛鴦枕上三頭竝, Three heads are arrayed on the mandarin-duck pillow;
翡翠衾中六臂連. Six arms connect mid the kingfisher blanket.
開口笑時渾似品, When they open their mouths to laugh, they come together like 品;
飜身臥處燮成川. When they turn their bodies over, the place where they lie harmonizes to become a 川.
東邊未了西邊事, When he's not yet done on the east side, he takes care of business on the west side,
更向東邊打玉拳. Again he turns to the east side to carress a jade-white hand.
☞ 不: 아니 불, 熱: 더울 렬, 寒: 찰 한, 二: 둘 이, 月: 달 월,
妻: 아내 처, 妾: 첩 첩, 最: 가장 최, 堪: 견딜 감, 憐: 불쌍히 여길 련,
鴛: 원앙 원, 鴦: 원앙 앙, 원앙(새) = mandarin ducks, a symbol of marital harmony, 枕: 베개 침, 上: 위 상, 頭: 머리 두, 竝: 아우를 병,
翡: 물총새 비, 翠: 물총새 취, 물총새 = kingfisher, also used as the color of jade (from the color of the feathers of the kingfisher that change color from blue to green in sunlight), 衾: 이불 금, 中: 가운데 중, 六: 여섯 륙, 臂: 팔 비, 連: 잇닿을 련,
開: 열 개, 口: 입 구, 笑: 웃을 소, 時: 때 시, 渾: 흐릴 혼, 品: 물건 품,
飜: 날 번, 身: 몸 신, 臥: 누울 와, 處: 곳 처, 燮: 불꽃 섭, 成: 이룰 성, 川: 내 천,
東: 동녘 동, 邊: 가 변, 未: 아닐 미, 了: 마칠 료, 西: 서녘 서, 事: 일 사
更: 다시 갱, 向: 향할 향, 打: 칠 타, 玉: 구슬 옥, 拳: 주먹 권
The three of them lying together form a stream. This is not to indicate that one of them has a enuresis problem, but that their bodies together make the shape of the word for stream: 川. Alternatively, he could have said that they look like "三," but since that is the word "three," and there are three of them, it looses all of the cleverness, not to mention the rhyme pattern of the verse.
So far, we have looked strictly at using the shapes of letters/logographs. It is also possible to borrow a noun synonym for a more abstract concept to a similar effect. So you use a picture of one word to represent another word that is more abstract and can't be conveyed in a simple picture, this is the type of rebus that you see on bumper stickers, like "I♥NY" or "I ♠ my dog."
Korean also uses these. For example, if you were setting up a very classy gentlemen's club to appeal to the hornley salaryman crowd, and you wanted to conjure up the image of a widows' village full of lonely women who've had it--so they know what they are missing--but only have their hairpins to console themselves now...and you didn't want to come out and just say
과부촌, because that is just a little too direct and doesn't match with the classy image you had in mind, you could use a picture representing another word to just suggest
the syllable "부":
In the above poem, the line above the "stream," where the man, his wife and his concubine laughing together form a "品" is the same principle, on a different level. Given the combinatory nature of written Chinese, where complex characters are made up of combinations of simpler characters, the possibilities in this realm are broad. Thus 김 uses the fact that "口" means "mouth" and that the word "品 product" happens to be made up of three of these for his pun-like construction.
Along the same lines, I suppose you could describe your dinner with three friends at a fine...
...restaurant as having been a "dish 器."
☞ 器: 그릇 기
The complementary action to this combinatory aspect of Chinese writing, dissecting characters up into their "constituent parts" in order to see how the meaning was constructed, is the underpinning of the first Chinese dictionary
and a favorite pasttime of many scholars and wanna-be scholars.
But that's a whole 'nother bag of worms...