Extended Glossary
Glossary: Noona
by | June 26, 2010 | 106 Comments

Go Hyun-jung and Chun Jung-myung in What’s Up, Fox

Today’s Korean word of the day is: Noona. Got a cheeky younger man in your life? Turns out there’s a reason he calls you what he does. Notorious noona-killers Chun Jung-myung and Kim Bum help give us a lesson on the ins and outs of the Korean language, and the pitfalls of dating a noona.

Traditionally, noona is what a boy calls his older sister, from childhood all the way through adulthood. My parents and their siblings still call each other noona and oppa, and will continue to do so till they’re in their nineties.

It’s also a term indicating friendship, or an informality between kids whose families are really close, as in the above example, What’s Up, Fox. Between kids, noona is simply something for a boy to call a girl who is older than him. But noona can also be used between adult friends, especially if the age gap is bigger and the relationship is close, as opposed to the more formal “Proper-name-sshi.” It’s also a more familiar way to address a colleague, if “sunbae” is too formal, like the way actors address on-set stylists as “coordi-noona” (an amalgamation of coordinator and noona).

As with oppa, noona does carry with it some appeal and some power; I know that men are powerless to the “oppa,” but I instantly light up when someone calls me noona. While it doesn’t carry the same loaded meaning, it does convey a closeness and an informality, while instantly triggering my nurturing side. All in the power of a word.

Gong Hyo-jin and Gong Yoo in Biscuit Teacher Star Candy

But noona doesn’t have the same use in the romantic realm as oppa; it doesn’t have the same connotation as its counterpart, because the gender roles are reversed. The trend has been steadily growing for the older-woman-younger-man couple, and socially, it’s become more and more accepted and commonplace in Korea. We’ve seen the trend in a whole slew of dramas in the last five years, like My Name is Kim Sam-soon, and Biscuit Teacher Star Candy, to name a few. And while those traditional age-relations can be flipped, and the gap widened, the gender roles cannot. That would upset the balance of like, the fabric of existence in Korea.

So when a guy starts a romantic relationship with a noona, he tends to drop the word, as a decisive way to assert himself as a man, or more importantly, her romantic equal. In What’s Up, Fox, Chul-soo has called his older sister’s friend Byung-hee, “noona” his whole life. They grew up together like family, and she jokes about changing his diapers. But the minute she accepts him as a romantic partner, he drops the noona in favor of “Byung-hee ya” and “baby.”

Kim Bum and Park Jin-hee in The Woman Who Still Wants to Marry

The Woman Who Still Wants to Marry is a great example of the conscious avoidance of the word noona, to keep from falling into the dreaded friend zone. Min-jae refuses to call the ten-years-older Shin-young “noona,” preferring to call her “Shin-young-sshi,” which is what a man her age would normally do. Only when she breaks up with him does he admit defeat by the utterance of one heartbreaking word: noona.

Noona, then, becomes a stand-in for “platonic,” which is the total opposite of how “oppa” gets appropriated. Why is Korean so complicated? You’re asking the wrong person. But it’s interesting (at least to me) that the social hierarchy and rules of social conduct are built into the language itself. What you call someone is tantamount to where you stand, and for Koreans, you always need to know where you stand. So when you meet someone and the first question you get is: How old are you, it’s not anything personal—they just need to know how to address you.

There’s also a bad boy element to the dropping of noona, as it goes against the ‘proper’ social order. Which would explain the appeal. Who doesn’t like a badass? Frankly, I love it when a guy calls me noona. It’s beyond adorable. But on the flipside, if I were dating someone younger than me, I’d find it totally hot if he asserted his boyfriend status by cutting out the noona and treating me as an equal. Whatchoo gonna do? I love a rule-breaker.

As far as dramas go, the intricacies of what the characters call each other at different points in the relationship—to me, that’s the good stuff: the nuances of language and culture that breathe life into the fantastical situation of dating a rockstar ten years your junior.

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106 Comments from the Beanut Gallery
  1. javabeans

    Oh, noona-killers… be still my heart!

  2. kez


  3. Celest

    Great examples of how “noonas” are typically written up in kdrama world. I recognized all the examples except for Biscuit Teacher Star Candy. huh. what a weird name… I’m gonna have to look that up. I liked you pointed out that girls can affectionately call their boyfriends oppas but the double standard persist for guys. But then again, I would find it kind of awkward if my younger boyfriend would call me “noona”…not cute at all imo.

  4. yoyo

    thanks for all the definitions and references, i’ll keep it in mind when i come face to face with a young and fresh idol that has fallen hopelessly in love with me 😀

  5. Angela

    These are so interesting!! Thank you. ^_^

  6. kay

    celest, you should watch Biscuit Teacher Star Candy! it’s really cute and funny. plus gong yoo’s in it. HELLLLLLLO! haha

  7. oh! tht! chick!

    and there are waaaay toooooo many noona killers out there these days….and tht coming from a 24 year old says something doesn’t it? its literally cradle robbing considering how much younger and younger the actors/idols are these days? makes me wonder abt child labour laws in k-land!

    as for the cultural connotation behind noona and oppa…i really dont know if its a healthy one or not whether i should be disappointed or just accept as it is and move on….lool just shows how complicated gender issues are eh?

  8. doozy

    Min-Jae’s noona is the most memorable use of the word, hands down.

  9. Startulle

    korea culture is fascinating………

  10. 10 Porcelain

    Thanks for the lovely noona version!!!
    Aww… My Lovely Samsoon, What’s up Fox and Biscuit Teacher Star Candy bring back so much memories… I remember in What’s up Fox, the process of deciding what to call Byung Hee was so cute, she was all like, “I know I am adorable but baby?” And Chun Jung-myung puppy face kill me… so damn adorable!!!

    And there is no Lee Seung Gi and Shinee in this post! Contrarary to what we might expect…

    In a lot of K-pop and variety, I think this noona effect is more evident I guess…

    More than once I saw idol boy groups go on shows and when they just “aegyo” a “noona” to the lady MC, she will all like jelly… that is hilarious…

    I guess when a boy stop calling an older girl he likes as noona is when he wants to stand equals as love partner with the girl… and sometimes I watch a whole drama just to get to that bit ^O^

  11. 11 Lahlita

    Thanks for the post, Girlfriday! I knew that Min-jae was going to make an appearance, because he’s the ultimate noona-killer. It’s interesting that “noona” doesn’t get afforded the same romantic implications as “oppa.” But then you said that gender roles cannot be reversed. That would explain why in these noona/noona-killer romances, even thought the woman is older, a career-oriented, intelligent being, she spends the first few episodes freaking out and running away from the (admittedly gorgeous) man-child who pretty much puts his foot down and tells her what’s what. That they will be getting their hot date on and she needs to deal.

    @ Girlfriday : Are you aware of any older women/younger men dramas where the woman was the pursuer, or at least equally eager in the beginning? Or would that upset the balance of like, the fabric of existence in Korea? :-)

  12. 12 Alison

    CJM is so yummy in that pic. chul soo ah~

  13. 13 tombrady

    @ porcelain: Totally agree with you. Lee Seung Gi and SHINee (all of them) are total noona-killers! ROFL. I like SHINee the way they are and will rue the day SM Ent finally decides to go for a sexy look like most idol groups.

  14. 14 nycgrl

    Uggh you had to do it. Put a pict of CJM. What a cutiepie.

    He has totally become my crush this year after watching CU and Goodbye Solo–though strangely not in What’s Up Fox though maybe its time for a rewatch just to double check.

  15. 15 xiaoSxin

    oh the complexities of the Korean language and culture.. it’s very addicting!!!

  16. 16 diadda

    whooooo-hoooo What’s Up Fox is my very most favoritest thing on the planet. And in my opinion that new boy band “infinite” is going to be serious noona killers.

    N a side note, my friend who is male and 6months older than me teases me by calling me noona. I tried correcting him, instead he thinks its funny to see me flustered.

  17. 17 sra

    What about the noona equivalent to the OPW?

    My “little brother” yells “NOOONAAAAAAAA!”, only when he wants something (my food, the remote, a ride, my car, getting out of washing the dishes, money . . . or talking his way out of something).

    Oh, if my life were only a kdrama, I’d have a bunch of adoring dongsaengs I could boss around calling me “noona” all the time.

    • 17.1 meimei

      haha, thats cute. I’m not Korean, Im australian but lived in Korea when I was in highschool. I had candy I had won and was so happy, then this little boy i didnt know saw them. Honeslty, if it were Australia and I random kid asked for my candy (they probably wouldnt) I would have refused but then he said “Noonaaaa, candy?”
      straight away I felt all protective and sisterly and gave him some. I really wish there was an equivalent in English. I miss being called Noona.

  18. 18 eiko

    hmmmm…..okay, so in Oh My Lady we had Min Woo calling KaeHwa “ahjumma” and in My Country Calls….Go JinHyuk calls Oh HaNa…. Oh HaNasshi!!!!!


  19. 19 mzpakipot

    thanks for this girlfriday and javabeans! after u mentioned My Name is Kim Sam Soon, when Ji-hyun called Sam Soon NooNim, is that really offensive?

  20. 20 Emi

    I like how in the drama My Country Calls (which I really wish was recapped here ^^) when Oh Ha Na is working under cover, and is caught talking with her partner (who is at least 7 years older than her) by the person she’s spying on, she hastily makes up an identity for her partner, introducing him as her YOUNGER cousin (which, given how old he looks, is hilarious) and in order to play along, the partner instantly has to start calling her ‘noona’. He looks so disgruntled every time he has to act like he’s younger, and show her some noona respect XD

    (My country Calls is my favorite show this season, even moreso than Coffee House~ it’s hilarious, and Ryu Jin as Han Do Hoon totally steals every scene <3 )

  21. 21 Goldie

    In “Personal Taste” it was funny that No Sang Joon (Jin Ho’s friend) called Lee Young Sun (Kae In’s friend) while He pretend to be gay that “Noo na” as well ^^

  22. 22 okdubu

    ” Frankly, I love it when a guy calls me noona. It’s beyond adorable. But on the flipside, if I were dating someone younger than me, I’d find it totally hot if he asserted his boyfriend status by cutting out the noona and treating me as an equal. ”


    lol at all of us expecting an lee seungki or shinee mention

  23. 23 maria

    @ lahlita: hmm.. dal ja’s spring? ..can’t remember properly though. teehee :)

    @girlfriday: thank you! “noona” is just way more elusive that “oppa”, and i’m actually jonesing to re-read some of your TWWSWTM recaps again now, just to see if it rings a more intense emotional tone with me with the language aspect explained (not that it didn’t the first time) lol.

    it is interesting to note how, as you say, the the culture is weaved in such a way that the social hierarchy and rules of social conduct are built into the language itself, because the culture DOES emphasize standing.
    and it rings a very personal bell for me– i think that the intricacy and complexity of situation borne of these levels would be VERY apparent to a person with a life like mine, just because… in chronos, i know where i stand, fine. but where i stand in this country? in this society? in this life? …??? SIMPLY TO BE ADDRESSED requires that i know where i am, lest that i leave it up to the people around me to just constantly tell me instead. i don’t know if i’m so comfortable with that. if i’m going to be talked down to, talked up to, talked to like an equal, i’d like to not be caught off guard about it, thankyouverymuch.
    but i would be caught off guard nonetheless, though, unless i can have the “where i stand” issues ironed out for myself. still: i can imagine that this floating feeling i have is not mine alone. nor do i think that korean nationals themselves are exempt from it. so just for that— they have my… sympathy? interest? pledge of allegiance? lol

    you are right though, girlfriday, the intricacies do present an appeal in some respects. the romantic air that comes with being caught off guard by a reference that gives away a regard higher or lower than what you expect/ desire certainly makes for good drama.
    but do i want it applied to my life whole? eep.

  24. 24 shelly

    @ tombrady i too was expecting a SHINee mention XD
    the quintessential noona killers even among idol groups….. yes i will also rue the day they go “sexy.” UNNECESSARY SME.

    at any rate. CJM is so CUTEEEE and i tried really hard to hate his wimpy character in CS, but then he smiled. so i failed miserably…….

    and i need to see kim bum in another drama. now. please? pretty please? with a cherry on top? no? fine. >.<

  25. 25 muzik130

    Whoa your really fast! haha I wasnt expecting this till tomorrow…. Thank you! Your the best girlfriday! oh and welcome aboard! ^-^

  26. 26 supah

    Kim Bum er, no. But Song-joong-ki and Kim Soo-hyun anytime.

    Lulz at Shinee mention — those three words: ‘noona nomu yeppo’ are pure wonderfulness. *faints*
    Oh aga, this yeppo noona will happily cook you warm meals, knit your sweaters, bleach your whites and give you warm and encouraging pats on back, even… hold your hand. 😉

  27. 27 Snikki

    What’s the difference between “name-ya” and “name-sshi”? And both gender can use it, right?

  28. 28 whateva

    hi, thanks for the insight.

    btw, what does “noonim” means? i’ve heard a male singer called an actress, “noonim” before.

  29. 29 annieee

    thank you so much girlfriday, for the awesome write-up!

    but im curious if “noona” is always assumed to be platonic, b/c if i remember correctly, in 9 end 2 outs, nan-hee’s younger boyfriend continues to call her noona despite them being in a serious relationship and even wanting to get married. so is there sometimes a certain kind of romantic connotation with “noona”?

  30. 30 Carina


    “Noonim” is a more formal version of Noona; pays more respect but also speaks of greater distance. It’s the same “nim” you will hear affixed to titles if you listen closely (and you won’t have to listen long since Kdramas love their corporate settings XD).

    There’s alose “Hyungnim”, nim added to hyung (boy’s older brother). Gangster bosses seem to be called that a lot.

  31. 31 pickles

    I’m really digging this whole glossary idea! Hahaha, thanks so much! :) yeah, I get this thrill when my younger guy friends call me noona! I went on an exhange programme in china once and I got acquainted with some of the Korean exchange students too. At first, they addressed me by name. But after a while some of the guys (who are only a year younger) called me noona! Omg, I felt inexplicably happy hearing that! I thought it would make me feel old, but no! Hahaha, I wish I had a little brother who would call me noona all the time! (like how I call my older sis unni. Heh.)

  32. 32 mellowyel

    @ Goldie

    actually, the word he used was “unnie” which as far as I know (non-Korean speaker, correct me if I’m wrong) is used by a female speaking to another female who is older than she, and whom she’s close with. i think in that case Sangjoon called her “unnie” because since he was pretending to be gay, their relationship was akin to one between two girlfriends (since in Korea gay=feminine). also, i know two female friends who take Korean class together, and the younger one calls the older one “unnie”

    Girlfriday, thanks so much for this! i think Korean is such an interesting language… I might pick it up one of these days

  33. 33 dodo

    What’s up fox is a great drama. I can’t help but fall in love with Go Huyn Jung. I understand and admire the chemistry between Go Huyn Jung & Chun Muyng Huyn. I like Biscuit teacher and Hardtack candy too but I hate Still, marry me a lot. I can’t hep but feel digusting at the chemistry and at Park Jin Hee >..<

  34. 34 Tammu

    Loved this article. It took me a bit to figure out how to get the full text since I didn’t see a “Click here to continue reading” link, but I’m glad I figured it out in the end since the discussion on noona is super interesting.

    Looking forward to more glossary entries!

  35. 35 girlfriday

    @ 11 Lahlita: I would consider Sam-soon to be an equal-starter, in their real romance, not their contract one.

    @17 sra: There isn’t a patented equivalent to the OPW, but pretty much “Nooonaaaaaaaaa!” in a long, drawn-out whine gets me every time. Pouty lips get extra points.

    @27 Snikki: We’ll address those in more length in the future, but “name-ya” is familiar, informal speech, while “name-sshi” is proper, and formal. The difference between close friends and adult colleagues, for example. And yes, it’s gender-neutral.

    @29 annieee: I haven’t caught 9n2 yet, so I can’t give a specific answer for that case. But in general, noona can be teasingly used in a larger romantic context, but isn’t commonly used seriously in the same way that oppa would be used. There are Korean married couples who continue to use oppa (as the main way to call your husband, not just as a cute OPW weapon), while noona would never be appropriated in the same way.

  36. 36 Becky

    Being called Noona makes me all warm and fuzzy. And it also makes me tired and broke cause my cousins take advantage of my weakness. 

  37. 37 Shar

    Great post :) hahaha I agree with your feelings about being called noona…and later dropping it when the guy is asserting boyfriend status a la Min-jae!

  38. 38 therainhouse

    More! More of this glossary type posts.
    Now I understand what it really means.

  39. 39 Orion

    Noona. Another beautiful korean word. If I had a younger brother or kid call me noona (were I korean), damn it, it would be hard to say no if they asked for something.

    But yes, noona could kill off romance. I guess it’s because of the gender role. Men are supposed to be the in-charge protectors in a relationship so a younger girl calling a guy oppa, even when romance is there, is not that funny. He’s still the “older stronger man”. He’s “higher” in the relationship in terms of responsibility, nurturing and protecting which are usually things a man has to do as his share in a relationship if we look at it from a more traditional (or from a primitive :P) point of view.

    But when we have a younger guy and an older woman, the younger guy needs to “toughen up” to fill in the gap and calling the girl “noona” would just make the gap wider. She’s already probably more mature and responsible and independent and he’s most likely in an inferior position when it comes to all these things like responsibility, social status etc. So in order to climb up to being the “man” in the relationship, he needs to treat the woman not as a wiser older sister figure, but make her feel like she can be more fragile and relaxed with him.

    A guy wants and needs to feel strong and in charge and a woman needs to be able to relax and let go once in a while. So when these roles are balanced in a relationship and if said relationship is a good one ruled by respect and not abusing your role in it (woman trying to control the man or vice versa), then this works really well.

    So it’s not surprising that the “noona” term is dropped in a romantic relationship. It brings the couple closer just like “oppa” does in the age and gender reversed couples. Makes the man feel more in charge in a good, protect and love my woman, way. It also makes the woman feel like she can escape the need to guard herself and struggle to rise to the top in what is a mostly a male-dominated society, that she has to deal with in every day life.

    At least that’s the way I see it. 😀

  40. 40 Vicky

    Very interesting post. Korean is the same as Thai or Vietnamese language, we have to know where we stand in order to talk each other in appropriate way. Living in english speaking country sometime I feel difficult when I want to show respect with someone, eg teacher or older colleague.
    Love to study Korean some day.

  41. 41 Orion

    Vicky, this happens even between other countries, not just english speaking ones. I’m greek and I moved to Finland in 2005. It was hard to get used to calling people here. In Greece, you call strangers by using plural. It might be a girl my age, but if she was a stranger and I wanted to adress her I’d use “miss”. At least in the very beginning. And if someone’s older then it’s even more common.

    In Finland, they use singular form almost everywhere. Unless it’s someone too fancy like a politician or then someone 65+ years old, they don’t use plural/polite forms much. In fact, if you see let’s say a 45 year old woman in the bus and call her using polite/plural tone, she will probably be offended, thinking you’re calling her old.

    So it’s not about language, but more about culture, customs and how much the age and social status gap matters in each country.

  42. 42 myron

    i want to be a noona:(

  43. 43 LadyIgraine

    Haha…I’m a noona myself! I think I’ve come to like younger guys thinking they’re older then me, not realizing they were born a little later than I am, lol!

  44. 44 Lilian

    This post so reminded me of Lee Seung Gi’s song and the drama Oh My Lady. I don’t remember Sung Min Woo calling her nuna. It was like Gaehwa shi towards the end and ahjumma at first =)

  45. 45 bjharm

    off topic but Biscuit Teacher Star Candy like Love all around are my most memorable dramas with what disturbs me about Korean drama, that is the casual use of violence. Biscuit Teacher Star Candy the father is a Doctor but still lays in on the son with his golf club {what else} even though as a doctor he must know the many dangers of whacking someone over the head with one. Love all Around it is both how a teacher can get away with caning a girl till she faints, and her mother actually come to say how sorry she was to him that her daughter was such a bother he had to beat her so badly {talk about culture clash, made me sick to my stomach}
    Also as with both, how violence in the family is either accepted or not talked about, that is even if the police are called it basically go away and deal with it yourself..it family matters nothing to do with us approach. Love all around again the ex-husband still seems to think he has the right to take money with force from his ex-wife or drag his daughter off the street so she can clean up his flat….

  46. 46 myron

    what does OPW mean?

  47. 47 snow

    fun post! and who can resist chun jung myung when he’s smiling like that in the first picture? XD

    you’re right, though, about the romantic aspect of noona – in “cinderella’s sister”, i just couldn’t take jung woo seriously when he keeps calling eun jo noona while harbouring a torch for her. i know it’s what’s required, but maybe the combination of noona and the bland character meant it didn’t work for me.

  48. 48 atsirk

    Oh, CJM oppa…I miss you. Too bad I’m not your Noona. LOL…

  49. 49 djinni

    i swear, you should write a book version of this! i know quite a few people who would buy a “drama slang glossery”. keep up the great work!

  50. 50 birdscout

    @29 annieee

    In 9E2O, the younger boyfriend does call Nan-hee “noona” but there’s a scene where he expressly states that he will stop calling her “noona” and will start calling her by her name because he wants Nan-hee to take the relationship more seriously, and to see him as an equal romantic partner. However, he often forgets/feels awkward calling her by name, and ends up calling her by the more familiar “noona”. 9E2O was a hilarious, romantic, sweet “best friends as lovers” drama. Highly recommended!

  51. 51 itsjustme

    Honestly, after being addicted to Kdramas and Kpop, I appreciate younger guys more now than guys my age. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing but damn it, I want a Noona killer of my own.

    • 51.1 TS

      Ha, me too!

  52. 52 E

    YES! I knew you were going to use What’s Up Fox as your first example. LOL. I love how in My Name is Kim Sam Soon, Hyun Bin’s character uses “noonim” sometimes to tease Sam Soon.

    I totally feel the same. My younger brothers must call me noona, I get too pissed off if they use my real name. =P

  53. 53 Eragonia

    It reminds of how one word like “noona” draws line between Min Jae and Shin Young..totally a dramatic use.

  54. 54 destriana

    it’s kinda sad cause noona means so dramatic (not in normal situation. i don’t mind if someone call me noona, but that’s different in love situation). it’s like a different between us as a sister and he as our little brother. especially if he are the person we love. different with oppa that mean closeness. well noona also show a closeness but it’s just complicated. like we’re close, in love, but we have a different age that some people always talk if we, girl, have a younger boyfriend. what a dramatic noona…
    btw girlfriday, thanks god you love gong yoo. his picture is so cute in here. give me more pict of him if you write some more glossary, haha… :)

  55. 55 Quaggy

    @29 annieee

    I think the young boyfriend’s use of “noona” in 9E2O was actually to highlight his immaturity. (As birdscout pointed out, he would still revert to calling Nan Hee that even after they were talking marriage.) There was never a doubt through the course of the series that his love for Nan Hee was deep and true. He just wasn’t grown up enough to be able to be a true partner. You’d never mistake the poor boy as someone wise beyond his years.

  56. 56 Selina

    ” That would upset the balance of like, the fabric of existence in Korea.” really? Do you really think that the gender roles can never ever change in Korea? :-)

    • 56.1 TS

      After watching some of these k-dramas, yeah, sounds right.

  57. 57 deannadsc

    #54 destriana:
    btw girlfriday, thanks god you love gong yoo. his picture is so cute in here. give me more pict of him if you write some more glossary, haha… :)

    I totally agree with destriana, girlfriday!!! Gong Yoo’s so cute & cuddly in this picture!!! Plus I love what you said about Coffee Prince’s rating…about forever being in love with Choi Han Kyul!!! I too, have fallen for GY & will go to Seoul in a few days…with the sole intention of “stalking”him!!! LOL!!! joke!!!
    Me & my Gong Yoo lover friends timed our visit to greet him on his birthday on July 10th, with the hope that he might hold a fan meet of sorts!!!

  58. 58 birdscout

    @ 50

    Oh, I forgot to add that the romance in 9E2O was also absolutely “believable”.
    (I think most women want a “Hyung-tae” in our lives 😉

  59. 59 Maiself

    Can you guys post about the term “Ajusshi”? I remember that girl in Oldboy kept calling the lead actor “ajusshi”, but the subtitle still translates it as his name Oh Daesu. In Sweet 18 the main girl calls her 10 years older husband as ajusshi, too.

  60. 60 sogba

    That was a nice read :)

  61. 61 Quaggy

    @ 57 birdscout

    I totally agree. Hyung-tae and Nan-hee’s long-term friendship/developing relationship was definitely the reason to watch. I love how towards the end of the series, they even started moving and sounding like each other, like an old married couple! (I’m thinking of the scene when all their friends finally come to the apartment and how frustrated Nan-hee & Hyung-tae are.)

  62. 62 Sobia

    Lol @ 36: “Being called Noona makes me all warm and fuzzy. And it also makes me tired and broke cause my cousins take advantage of my weakness”– poor Becky!

  63. 63 pabo ceo reom

    Kim Bum can call me noona annnnnny daaaaaay.

    But seriously, being called noona is cute to me. I actually like it!

    Way way way way better than being called ahjumma, right ladies? :(

  64. 64 diadda


    For me Ahjussi(male equivalent of Ahjumma). I reserve it for those that are slightly past marriageable age. But I also look at the guy and if I know he already had to have gone through Military service, but has no chance of great grankids. Ahjussi is acceptable. 35-60yrs

    Of course I could be using it wrong. I just started learning last year. I will wait to see post like everyone else.

    I seriously don’t want to be called Ahjumma either, but lord knows I qualify.

  65. 65 Keylye

    Wow, that was fast. Go away for a day and BAM! Noona post. ^_^

    I love all the people who expected SHINee and Lee Seung Gi to make it into this post, but keeping it k-drama relatable is nice as well. Plus, you pictured 3 noona dramas that I absolutely loved. While I don’t really consider younger guys good dating material for myself, it’s nice to think that it could happen to someone…

  66. 66 유진

    i would feel so awkward if my boyfriend ever called me “noona.” i have some close guy friends who call me that since they younger and it makes me feel like we are family. it makes me happy when i get called noona though…i feel like i’m important to that person and close enough to be considered family :3

    so i wouldn’t like it if my boyfriend called me that haha xD

  67. 67 Nhu

    So “oppa” can be used as a term of romantic endearing, but not “noona”. However, using “noona” clearly puts you as the inferior or the child in the relationship. But doesn’t using “oppa” then imply the same thing, only it’s more socially acceptable because the inferior is the woman? Or at least, that is the implication I see – not that I’m saying any Korean woman calls her boyfriend “oppa” or her boyfriend wants her to call him “oppa” because they see this implication. But how can Koreans, who seem so conscious of names, not see the same implication? Or am I reading too much into it?

    I guess I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around how these two words relate and the implications of their usages. Not that I do any better in my language. I’m Vietnamese and our term “anh” is pretty much equivalent to “oppa”, and “chi” to “noona”, only oddly enough whenever people begin dating they invariably fall into the “anh/oppa” routine, no matter the age gap of the couple and who’s older than who. And I’m just as puzzled with that.

  68. 68 anna

    Is Lee Seung-gi the original? He even came out with a song about noona, lol. His “relationship” with Chae Yeon on XMAN was adorable.

  69. 69 Dele

    I loved reading that. My friend is dating someone 10 years younger than her, but he won’t call her noona because he wants to be seen as a man. Haha….I told her to watch The Woman Who Still Wants To Marry because their situations have so many parrallels. Except it’s him going abroad and not her.

    It’s really true how much the langauge amounts for social conduct in Korea. Even as a teacher, there are so many different ways to call my collegues at my school. It’s funny though they all call me by my first name without sshi but I feel rude if I do it to them. I love the unnies I have here, are you going to define that and hyung as well? I hope so:)

  70. 70 Anhstein

    @67 Nhu:

    I’m Vietnamese too. There’s clearly the similarity between Korean’s oppa/noona to our Vietnamese equivalences, even in its use and implication. I am, too, totally perplexed how a girl in a relationship always addresses their partner as a socially higher person. Good thing I’m not dating a younger guy, because I just cannot see myself calling them that way.

    Maybe it’s an Asian thing, huh? I’m sure they have all these honorifics in Chinese as well?

    Sometimes I’m so glad English makes it easier to converse with people in your generation: Just go by first name and you’re good. However, I feel really awkward when it comes to talking to a person of an older generation. My friend’s parents would introduce themselves by first names only, but it always feels like I should be calling them “uncle A” “miss B” or something. Boy would that sound weird to them!

  71. 71 Anhstein

    Girlfriday, I love that you mentioned the How old are you question. Funny how in western cultures, it’s considered too personal/impolite to utter such a thing, especially to women.

  72. 72 mimim

    dramas with “noona killer” which are my favorite..

    Shooting a Star : Jo in sung – Jeon do yeon
    My name is kim samsoon
    What’s up Fox
    2007 or 2008
    Oh Dal Ja
    The Woman Who Still Wants to Marry

    ahhh love them

  73. 73 rainerust

    LOL I quite enjoyed Biscuit Teacher, if only for Gong Yoo and Gong Hyo-jin. Not their best drama (offhand, I can think of dramas individually in which they’ve starred that have been better, like Pasta, and ) but it was cute.

    Also…I would LOVE it if a younger boy called me ‘noona’, but unfortunately, not too many Korean boys around here, and no one else understands the usage of the word. Sigh. (On the plus side, I have my younger sister calling me “Unnie” all the time. LOL)

    Ahhh…SHINee…and Lee Seung Gi. Korea needs to stop producing all these younger boys that are stealing itty bitty pieces of my heart! I mean, seriously, some of these boys are jailbait. LOL. Not that it’s going to stop this noona from drooling over them.

  74. 74 rainerust

    ^Pasta and Coffee Prince.

    GAH. I can’t believe I tripped up not re-reading my comment. =.=”

    Got too excited over the younger boys. Sigh.

  75. 75 tokyojesusfist

    Korea’s social hierarchy is extremely bizarre and even annoying to anyone like me who comes from an egalitarian and relatively informal culture. I can’t fathom the idea of assigning everyone a position in some arbitrary hierarchy based on their age, gender and social status. It serves no purpose. It’s irrational. It needlessly complicates interpersonal relationships.

  76. 76 refresh_daemon

    I think part of the reason why “noona” and “oppa” don’t have the same power is simply because of culturally observed gender role dynamics. All four of the younger-to-older pronouns, “hyung”, “oppa”, “noona” and “unni” imply a close relationship, but also that the person who receives the title “hyung”, “oppa”, “noona” and “unni” has an obligatory duty to look out for the giver of the title, as though they were their actual relative.

    In some sense, it’s an intricate way to develop and engender a relationship or put a word to that specific kind of relationship. However, if a male gives the title of “noona” to a woman, it instantly puts her in the protector role and the man in the role of the charge. The standard patriarchal gender roles of men as protectors and providers for women is common practice in Korea and sort of goes hand-in-hand with being a man in a typical heterosexual relationship.

    Consequently, by being engaged in a romantic relationship with an older woman, using the word “noona” subverts the gender role of the man, making him the powerless one to be looked after. I think most Korean men *and* women would balk at having their gender roles switched in a romantic relationship and therefore the use of the word “noona” in a typical Korean relationship is unlikely. Likewise, if these sort of lingual connotations were built into the structure of most cultures languages, assuming similar patriarchal leanings, we would find a similar limitation on the use of the equivalent female-to-older-male pronoun.

    That said, I imagine certain unconventional relationships could use “noona” in a romantic sense: sugarmamas and/or cougars and their boy toys. I imagine the gender dynamic is already reversed in these cases so the use of “noona” would actually be appropriate insofar as respecting the implication of the word’s use.

  77. 77 I heart K-dramas

    Love learning these words, JB & GF….thanks! I’m not Korean but I work with a young man who is and knowing I’m a budding K-drama fan, he addresses me as *Noona* and not knowing what it meant or inferred – quite frankly, I’ve been bothered by it. I equated it w/ *Ahjumma*. NOW… with this explanation, I’m certain that I am no longer offended but feel quite honored..actually…. =)

  78. 78 errh

    Korean social ranking and status are too complicated for me. Thank you for enlightening us.

  79. 79 Observer

    Girlfirday: Just curious, what do you see of the real life CJW-LJW relationship? It looks like CJW is porttraying herself as a 27-year old, rather than 35-year old and acting cute and embarassing after asking LJW for a birthday cake (during the recent interview).

    Under above circumstances, do you think LJW will address her as noona or baby or the other way round. Would appreciate your enlightenment!! Hehe…of course, the safest answer is only they will know!! ^______________^

  80. 80 girlfriday

    It’s important to consider the cultural context of Korea–as a centuries-old patriarchal society–and also hold back from judging it solely from an outside perspective. From a Western, egalitarian point of view, these deep-rooted gender roles may be hard to swallow or understand. Case in point: you hear me complain about the wrist grab all the time. While I would like for everyone to be considered equal, balanced, regardless of gender, the truth is that no society is blameless when it comes to gender politics.

    I think that in context, the words are defined as such and meaningful because of the cultural values assigned. And yes, I do think that the gender relations in Korea can change–they’re changing every day.

    What I hope is that no matter what corner of the globe we live in, that we’d all be the kind of people to push the boundaries and question these roles, the words, the dramatic uses–because they’re a reflection of the way we feel about each other.

  81. 81 kasidhe

    Thanks for the info. Now I know why my husband refuse to call me noona.

    I’m a gyopo married to a korean. While I was in Korea i dated a younger man and he called me noona. Then I married a man 1 year younger and he refused to call me noona. To this day he calls me my by name or jagiya, Korean culture and society very important. But sometimes I want to hear noona from him to send goosebumps…..lol.

  82. 82 jumanji

    Oh my!!! What an interesting topic…LOL

    i feel so mature hearing “noona” from my guy friend,
    and as to “noona killers” whoa!!!
    Yoo seung ho…you can call me “noona”!!
    i’ll take care of you…kekeke

  83. 83 CapitalScandalRocks

    Another Off topic question
    Any suggestions regarding “best friends as lovers” drama. I have watched and rewatched 9E2O many times

  84. 84 ktwngrl

    ..and how ’bout them noona killers who insist you call them oppa! As if things weren’t complicated enough as it is.. =P

  85. 85 LadySaotome

    I remember in Crazy for You there was a scene when the older woman, played by Kim Chae Joon , asked her OTP (before they had reached that stage) why he didn’t call her Ajumma & he said she wasn’t an Ajumma. And when she retorted, “then what am I”, he kinda blushed and replied, “Noona!”. Which was very sweet as it really showed that he didn’t think of her just as a boss or friend but someone closer than that.

  86. 86 Mel

    OMG I didn’t know u guys had a space for Korean terms~~^^ Cool 😀

  87. 87 giddygirl108

    Not a coincidence: the same power-infused gender pronouns in Korean have a similar, if not, the same feel as in Vietnamese (although this is not coincidental…Asian cultures are very similar in foundational values that definitely include gender roles). “Anh” is the “Oppa” equivalent and “Chi” the “Noona” equivalent. I agree with Javabeans –>as much as I pride myself in being an independent woman and preach egalitarian values, I still understand that society isn’t perfect as interestingly reflected in its language. Even if a guy is younger than the girl (or man to the woman), the fact of the matter is: a woman would not want to be called “Chi” by her romantic counterpart, ever.

    On a similar vein: Has anyone ever been in a predicament of NEEDING to figure out their friends’ parents’ ages? In Vietnamese, you call your parents’ siblings as well as their friends the same thing YET it’s totally based on age: if they’re younger, it’s a specific title and if they’re older, it’s a different one. Arrrrgghhhh! Thank goodness I don’t have many Vietnamese friends.

  88. 88 annieee

    thank you girlfriday and fellow blog-viewers, for clearing things up!
    this is really interesting stuff, and it totally reminds me of this theory in anthropology called the sapir-whorf hypothesis, which claims that language kinda constructs the way you think, the way you view the world. i would say it totally makes sense, esp. when u look at the korean language!

  89. 89 reluctantbutaddicted

    Informative AND entertaining. Wish I were still of noona age to some of the current crop of little noona-killers. Is there such a thing as an ahjumma-killer? Those’d be my best bet, I guess.

    Thank you for this!

  90. 90 Anhstein

    @87 giddygirl108:

    “On a similar vein: Has anyone ever been in a predicament of NEEDING to figure out their friends’ parents’ ages? In Vietnamese, you call your parents’ siblings as well as their friends the same thing YET it’s totally based on age: if they’re younger, it’s a specific title and if they’re older, it’s a different one. Arrrrgghhhh!”

    Haha yes! And then you’ll feel so awkward for calling someone “bác” just to find out they’re actually younger than your parents. Omo omo, did you just imply that they look old?! Oops!

  91. 91 peanut butter

    87 giddygirl108
    its the same for koreans, too. depending on whether my mom’s/dad’s siblings are first born, middle, youngest, or whatnot, what i call them changes. plus side is once you figure out which uncle/aunt is who based on their age, they wont be confused who you’re calling for.

    and like girlfriday said, you cant really judge from an outside perspective. if you think about the korean history, “assigning roles” based on what you call makes sense. a person’s status (gener, social status, etc) was important to where in society they are. or something like that. for this part of it, i say ask confucius.

    i must say though, i am quite comfortable in some ways with where the boundaries are because that is the cultural environment i grew up in (family’s quite traditional). though it may seem uncomfortable and complicated to someone who didnt grow up in it, to someone who did its pretty natural. and when in doubt, ask your parents =)

  92. 92 jitsuryoko

    mmmhmmmm…SHINee definitely romanticized the term “noona”. *swoons*

  93. 93 r.

    Ahhh, many thanks for feeding my voracious addiction to gloriously nitpicky language details (and doing it so generously too!). I love the lengthy explanations of seemingly-tiny points, whether plotwise or cultural, that turn out to have huge implications. They are the most fun, I think!

  94. 94 Hiromi

    This has open my mind. Thank you for the easy to understand, full of awesome examples, explanation. I was always wondering what noona really meant.

  95. 95 Ciara

    I am digging these glossary entries. It’s great to learn what different words mean. =)

  96. 96 bathala

    I remember in My Lovely Kim Sam-soon, her BF’s ex-GF called her “noona” and Sam-soon’s reaction was “What? Were sisters now?”.

  97. 97 Kdramavictim

    I miss this kind of post…

  98. 98 TS

    The thing is, I really want to meet Kim Nam-Gil one day and call him “oppa”. Do the whole oppa-pout-wiggle thing.

    But I’m way older so I guess he’d be calling me unni, sigh.

  99. 99 Eulaliee

    I use to be an oppa-lover but now, I’m nothing but a noona to all the boys. Makes me so sad. Us older women hate the term, cougar… But with the word noona, it just seems more cute and appropriate. Hahha. That’s just me though.

  100. 100 cheryl

    I know I’m late to the party but I just finished What’s Up Fox? Ms Go should go back and holla at that brother Cho Jung myung he is age appropriate now on real life…anyway please was that The Worst Final Episode ever? Dammitt Man did the writer drink a glass of Stupid. Ughhh

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