My mother tongue, Korean, has a beautiful word meaning ‘gradually unnoticed’ – 시나브로. Is there any English word for the meaning, not as same as with the meaning but including the beautiful sound or rhythm?

  • 1
    "Gradually unnoticed" doesn't quite make sense in English. Do you think you could paraphrase or explain what it means? (I think maybe 시나브로 means "before you know it", but I only ever learned a little Korean...)
    – user230
    Commented Mar 9, 2013 at 1:09
  • Yes, when we have a beautiful fall morning rays, we can say '시나브로 - before we know it - the fall has come.
    – Listenever
    Commented Mar 9, 2013 at 2:06
  • Yes; and can you transcribe the Korean into the Roman alphabet - or IPA! - to give us a sense of the sound? Commented Mar 9, 2013 at 2:08
  • @StoneyB; [shee-na-bu-ro]
    – Listenever
    Commented Mar 9, 2013 at 2:10

3 Answers 3


We might say ‘Fall surprised us’—in literary contexts, surprise has its old sense of ‘capturing’ or ‘overwhelming’ unexpectedly. Wordsworth wrote a sonnet, Surprised by Joy — not to my mind a very good one, but the phrase is known, and C.S. Lewis' account of his religious conversion takes it for his title.

More colloquially we might say ‘Fall took us unawares’, which has something of the music of your word.

A longer phrase is ‘out of the blue’, which seems particularly appropriate to fall: when I was a child we had to memorize a poem of which I remember only the striking line ‘October’s bright blue weather’. ... so ‘Out of the blue, fall fell upon us’.

But English isn't really strong in adjectives and adverbs, which tend to be ornamental. Verbs are the bones of the language.

  • They are beautiful. And I missed a big content of the word: shee-na-bu-ro has the meaning of ‘little by little’ in it. So it has some contradiction in it with the meaning of ‘before you know it.’ That’s why when I hear the word, it makes me lapse into a kind of trance, by the meaning and the sound. Yours is wonderful yet can’t content my curiosity. May be there’s none, for the word itself is curious. Thank you.
    – Listenever
    Commented Mar 9, 2013 at 2:55
  • @Listenever - look at FumbleFinger's last line. That's how you do it English! Commented Mar 9, 2013 at 3:15

I admit my suggestion can't exactly match OP's Korean equivalent (since that's "a beautiful word"), but...

Boiling Frog Syndrome

is a pretty well-known expression for bad changes that happen so gradually you don't notice them. If you want the dry description (rather than that somewhat unsettling video), here it is on Wikipedia.

One idiomatic alternative comes to mind that can also apply to neutral (and good) changes...

We were so engrossed in the poker game we didn't notice daybreak had crept up on us.

  • +1 for crept up. I tell people and I tell people and I tell people, Do it with verbs. Commented Mar 9, 2013 at 3:13
  • @StoneyB: Absolutely. Boiled frogs are all very well when you want to be witty, but the right verb can add a touch of class. They were so engrossed in exploring each other's bodies they didn't notice as rosy fingered Dawn stole up on them. Commented Mar 9, 2013 at 3:23
  • ...here's another nice "verb" form, often used to mean "grinned widely", but also to mean "appeared/disappeared without the change being noticed immediately" - "cheshire catted" Commented Mar 9, 2013 at 3:30
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    the Greats are getting a workout today. I've brought in Wordsworth here and Graves on ELU; now you've capped me with Homer and Carroll. Commented Mar 9, 2013 at 3:36
  • I can bring it back down: I'd rather have a "Crunchy Frog", lightly killed and sealed in a succulent Swiss quintuple smooth treble cream milk chocolate envelope, than a boiled one.
    – Jim
    Commented Mar 9, 2013 at 5:02

I like by degrees (“In gradual steps”). For example, “By degrees Fall has come.”

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