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Glossary: Oppa


Was there ever such heartbreaking confusion over the meaning of
the word “oppa” as with these two in Triple?

Perhaps you’ve seen that Glossary link in the menu to the left, languishing in neglect with nary an update. I decided, what better way to update than to expound upon those familiar kdrama terms and concepts in a Glossary Series? Because while longtime drama lovers may know exactly what a chaebol is, why pojangmachas rule, and why makjangs induce eye-rolls, sometimes we toss around these Korean terms freely without explanation. And we suspect (we being myself and girlfriday, of course!) that some people are left in confusion.

Hence: the Dramabeans (Extended) Glossary. First up in this ongoing series is that ubiquitous, loaded term that we see in practically every drama ever: “Oppa.”

Of all the terms in the glossary, oppa may be the most packed-with-extra-meaning-and-therefore-confusion entry. The straight definition is pretty simple — an oppa is what a girl calls her older brother, or an older guy whom she feels somewhat close to — but its application is where we get all tripped up in nuance.

The Types of “Oppa”

(1) The brother. This is the most straightforward use of oppa: the blood relative. This can mean a girl’s sibling or cousin, just as long as he’s male and older. Oddly enough, oppa can even mean one’s twin brother, if he were born ahead of the sister. In You’re Beautiful, Mi-nyeo calls her twin Mi-nam “oppa,” because ostensibly he got a few minutes’ head start in the world.

(2) The older guy. The term oppa can also be extended to guys who are not blood-related, but to whom the girl feels some closeness. When a girl is a young child, this is pretty easy to do — every boy older than you is an oppa.

When the girl starts growing older, however, she has a few more choices for things to call older guys and therefore the use of “oppa” becomes at her discretion. Now she gets to pick whether a guy is close enough to be an oppa — or maybe there’s some distance and sunbae, or his work title, or his name would be more appropriate.

A guy who takes on oppa status to a girl he’s not related to also takes on a few implied responsibilities, like generally watching over her and making sure she doesn’t get into trouble. He’s the one who might introduce her to social drinking — but he’s also the guy who’d better cut her off when she’s had too much. An oppa who takes advantage of his drunk charge isn’t worthy of the title oppa. If the currently popular trope of the cold-on-the-outside, fuzzy-on-the-inside hero can look to Mr. Darcy as its archetype, then the quintessential oppa is surely Mr. Knightley.


My Girl: Not quite an oppa

You might wonder, in My Girl, why does Yoo-rin call Gong-chan that weird formal word oraboni?

Oraboni is an older, formal version of oppa, most often heard in historical dramas. At first Yoo-rin calls Gong-chan by his title — executive director. However, once they assume the ruse that she is his long-lost cousin, she’s family and it’s no longer appropriate to use his business title. She can’t use his name because he’s older and that would be disrespectful. So why doesn’t she use oppa? Well, they’re virtual strangers, and oppa — even in family settings — suggests some level of closeness. And Gong-chan is a cold, distant sort of guy. To preserve that respect but to not appear presumptuous, she uses the more distant, formal oraboni.

Suffice to say that once you’re an adult, the lines get blurry. Add to that the following complication and here’s where things start getting tricky:

(3) The romantic oppa.

Hooo boy, now this is the big one.

A girl often calls her (older) boyfriend “oppa.” I know. It’s weird. It’s just how it is.

So you can imagine that the word now takes on all these added implications. No longer are you just the protective older brother-figure. Now the oppa is the object of romantic affection — the manly man, the stud. You take those earlier connotations of the brother-oppa (respect, guidance) and you add in romantic adulation? It’s a heady combination.

There’s a reason the denizens of the Open Thread have coined the term “Oppa Pout Wiggle,” or “O-P-W.” In short, it’s that whiny, girly, fussy way a girl pouts, “Oppaaaaaaaa” when she wants her boyfriend to do something for her. Personally, I find the oppa-whine immensely annoying, but there’s a reason the guy always crumbles. (Key example: Sung Yuri’s batty eyelashes and oppa-whine to Hyun Bin in Snow Queen. Also known as Samsooki’s kryptonite. There’s a particularly robust discussion about the O-P-W in Open Thread #81.)

Here’s an explanation in the words of Min-ae of 2006’s Soulmate:

 
The Application (and Complications) of “Oppa”

When a relationship is clear-cut, things are simple. But in kdrama-land, things are never clear-cut and one relationship always wants to be another kind of relationship. Hence all the blurry lines.

Take Triple. Haru (Min Hyo-rin) uses oppa with Hwal (Lee Jung-jae), her ex-stepbrother from childhood. They haven’t seen each other in years but when they reconnect, he’s still her oppa.

She also uses oppa with his buddy Hyun-tae (Yoon Kye-sang) — but why does she use “ajusshi” with a third friend Hae-yoon (Lee Seon-kyun), when they’re all the same age? (Ajusshi is used with older men.) Well, Hyun-tae is goofy, fun, and young at heart — oppa seems fitting. Hae-yoon is much more professional and acts like a real grown-up, so he gets the ajusshi treatment. Note that when Haru later switches to calling him oppa, he LOVES it. It makes him feel younger, plus it’s much cooler to be an oppa than a crotchety ol’ ajusshi.

There’s a scene in Triple (Episode 3) when the adorable Song Joong-ki, who has a crush on Haru, is miffed with her. She apologizes, calling him oppa, and immediately his attitude drops — he turns into a giddy, excitable boy. She doesn’t mean it flirtatiously, but it suggests that romantic vibe he so wants with her.

And then, another wrench is thrown into the works when Haru starts to develop feelings for Hwal — meaning that he starts to encompass all THREE meanings of oppa.


Two very different kinds of oppas: Cinderella’s Sister and Bad Guy

This romantic-platonic complication runs both ways. In the case of Song Joong-ki above, he wants that “oppa” usage to cross the divide from platonic into romantic. In an opposite scenario, a girl may desperately want to advance to the romantic stage with her oppa, but he sees her in a purely sisterly light. For instance, Cinderella’s Sister: Hyo-sun uses oppa readily with Ki-hoon, as she looks up to him and adores the ground he walks on. He merely thinks of her as a sister, but contrast that with Eun-jo. Could you imagine the reaction she’d get if Eun-jo ever tried to call Ki-hoon oppa? I’m guessing that would be the first and last time, since he’d be dead from shock.

In Coffee Prince, confusion about Eun-chan’s (Yoon Eun-hye) gender is exacerbated by her sister teasingly calling her oppa. Eun-chan already looks like a guy, so when her cute younger sister goes around calling her oppa (instead of the word for sister), it’s no surprise that Min-yup assumes that lady’s a dude.

In Que Sera Sera, Hye-rin calls Joon-hyuk oppa. They’re not related, but he was raised as her brother. As adults, the two have a secret affair, and you get the sense that Hye-rin relishes calling him oppa, which sounds like one meaning of the word but is spoken intending the other. (Also: WTF kdramas and your obsession with faux-incest?)

In the recent Bad Guy, 20-year-old Mo-nae has taken a liking to Gun-wook (Kim Nam-gil). Before she knows his name, there’s enough of a tangible age gap that she has to call him “ajusshi”… but after they bump into each other a few times and are on speaking terms, she asks for his name, and immediately switches to “Gun-wook oppa.” And now that she is dating him, she uses oppa freely.

Basically, the rule of thumb is: the closer you are, the more you can break the rules and the more you can use oppa.

In conclusion?

Oppa is a word with power. Don’t abuse it!

 

 
To cap things off, here’s the 2000 pop song “Oppa,” as sung by Wax and featuring a young Ha Ji-won. The song pretty much encapsulates the whole oppa dilemma:

I liked that simple, casual vibe
I just thought of you as a good person
But what’s up with this? I keep feeling you as a man
I must be in love with you

Oppa, only look at me.
Are you so busy?
It hurts my feelings
Why don’t you understand how I feel?
Oppa, why are you looking at her?
See, she’s bad
Look, take me now
Take me now

Why won’t you see me as a woman?
Why do you keep saying it can’t work?
Look at other couples, they all start off as oppa
In the end they love and live happily

Next up: girlfriday defines noona.

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Great post! Every time my husband happened to look over my shoulder and watch a K-drama with me for a few minutes he is always confused. "So... He is her brother?" "Nope, that's the guy she is in love with." "umm... so she likes this other guy too who she is calling brother?" "nope, that's her real brother." :-)

I love the Soulmate clip but don't remember it at all. Guess it's time for a review.

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A long long time ago when I only know the romantic meaning of "oppa," I was at a Korean salon where I overheard this mom tell her 3 year old daughter "oppa, oppa," pointing at a young boy who clearly isn't her brother. I was so confused, I thought they have arranged their future marriage. But after a few more kdramas and googling, I was enlightened...whew!

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Hahahah! Love this too, too much! Especially the Soulmate clip, I've forgotten how much that show made me laugh.
Personally, I abhorr this word term, and have only envy of those guys who can use the term ''hyung''. Hah!

Watching Giant the meaning of hyung was pretty much re-defined. Everytime I see Kim Soo-hyun now my heart constricts in absolute achy yearning, making me cry out... ''hyuuuung!'' Hahah!

Can't wait for girlfriday to cover 'noona'.
(Will you cover hyung anytime soon?)

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Thanks for the great article! Can't wait for the Noona post. :)

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awesome read!
you need a like button JB!
so that we can spread your words to facebook networks!

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thank you so much! I can't wait for noona cuz I'm more confussed on that word then oppa... LoL ^-^

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@48,

In Korea, the twin sibling born first is the older sibling.

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wow. impressive explanation. Love it!

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This is the first time I've seen Wax's Oppa MV and it makes Chae Rim's version even more hilarious...can't stand hearing a whiny "Oppa" in Kdramas. It turns me off. Thanks for the info JB...appreciate it.

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Thanks for the tutorial on "oppa". It has always intrigued me since I hear it on YB
("shinwoo- oppa") and in goong when the the two-timing once queen confronts "piyeha" about making her son the next crown prince. One seemed liked brotherly and the other of a past romance.

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@48 - REALLY? because all the Asian countries I've been in contact with (Korea, China, and Vietnam) consider the sibling born first to be the older sibling. Not sure how it is with Japan.

They make a really big deal about it too... In terms of inheritance, family rank, ect.

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If there was a "Like" feature on this blog, I'd so be using it right about now.

Great post! I always have to explain the nuances of this term to my friends who try to watch over my shoulder, and I can tell that it frustrates them to no end. Glad to finally have a web post I can just link them to. :)

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here's a question: honestly, whenever i watch a kdrama, i always prefer that the girl DOES NOT call the lead guy "oppa". i'm not dissing or insulting the korean language, but living in america, where everyone is so individualized and informal, having to call a guy 'oppa' just makes the girl seem 'less' in a way...inferior (except when it's a sibling scenario). for some reason, i just don't like it and i admit i would be kind of uncomfortable if i had to call someone outside my family "oppa".
so my question is: how relevant is the use of 'oppa' for korean-americans? do they use it often? or is it more flexible, where you can all an close older korean guy 'oppa' sometimes, and his name at other time?

thanks for the post, very interesante indeed.

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I love all the Korean brother/ sister words. There's something so sweet about the implication that you will look out for/ protect the younger sibling/ friend. So much about Korean culture is embedded in those words. Great post.

Yeah, I'd like to see a post about "noona" too.

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ahh reading this makes me miss triple, despite all its frustrating moments. i totally remember when haru called haeyoon oppa for the first time, IT WAS SO CUTE.

i predict lee seungki and/or shinee for the next post hehe.

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this was a really fun and educational read! indeed, the word oppa is loaded with meanings depending on the context in which it is used, almost like a minefield. loving this new addition to the glossary, and looking forward to girlfriday's take on noona!

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@coollady,

Korean-Americans are an interesting example, because there is such a range within KA's. Some are very Americanized and weren't raised to follow Korean customs. Others are very in touch with their Korean side. Ultimately, it's up to the girl to decide which word she wants to use. If you are uncomfortable, just don't use the word and it's all good. (Koreans understand that not all KAs are in touch with their Korean sides, and are much less likely to be offended when the KA doesn't follow the Korean norm.)

But whatever you decide, you wouldn't switch back and forth. If you call him oppa (or, example, "John oppa"), you shouldn't then also use John. One or the other.

It's interesting that you said it would make the girl seem "less," but I'd argue that use of the oppa term actually adds to the relationship. I would never call a boyfriend oppa, but back in high school I remember a lot of younger kids who had come from Korea called me unni and noona, and I liked it. It fosters a sense of closeness, like they look up to you.

But with all things, you do what's comfortable to you, not what you think they want to hear! Somebody once insisted I call her unni and I didn't feel we were at that level of closeness yet. So, awkwardly, I avoided calling her anything at all. What you call someone has as much to do with you as it does the other person.

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^ lol that is the worst when you just talk to them without ever addressing their name. so awkward.

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I really like this idea JB! You think it's a basic concept but you realize there's more to words than you normally think about.

Btw, because I'm such a nosy cat, why would you never call your boyfriend oppa? Is it just your personal preference? I'm actually the same way but I just chalk it up to me being weird or something. Have you ever had anyone insist that you call him oppa? I've had a few occasions and it was just plain awkward!

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oppa, oppa, oppa ...... mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm sexy

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Great post and the glossary is a great idea! Somehow I knew the OPW and Ha Ji-won's dancing to the Wax song would be included :) I think it's pretty amusing to see what the guy's reaction is when the girl finally says oppa. And even more so when it's said between two adults.

I really enjoyed reading this and am looking forward to the next post!

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Anyone else notice that the chorus is sung to the same tune as Cyndi Lauper's She Bop? It even sounds a little bit like She Bop! lol

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fabulous! thank you so much!

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@29 Lurker thank you so much for the infos... (I really needed them...and I was curious about oldest dramas but didn't fine any interesting one so with a lil perv one I will be satisfied)
@30 Nhu you are absolutely right... my oldest dramas are from 2003:
"1000 years of love" and "Dae Jang Geum"(I wonder if its anyone here who didn't saw this one),Damo(2003) too weepy for my taste, and "Full House" from 2004 and I planned "Gumiho Wehjun" 2004...but failed to see it because of the directing and over-acting

I would never judge sexual options ...especially when it is in a movie(Koreans made a few(read a lot) very good movies(not dramas-not yet for me) about sex)... in a drama if they kiss 3 times is too much already-and this is the only thing that bugs me...after them sometimes babies fall from the sky

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I LOVE the idea of this series. I'm such a cultural-loving nut! I started reading your blog (and obviously continued to do so with additional reasons) for the main reason that I don't understand Korean culture and was able to fully enjoy and understand Kdramas based on your insightful, well-explained analysis about some cultural nuances. I am so excited for this series! Thank you, Javabeans and Girlfriday!!!

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nice can,t wait noona

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@javabeans,
thanks for the clarification. i understand that using 'oppa' depends on personal preference, and I understand that it's signifies comfortableness and closeness and respect. However, is calling someone oppa, unni, hyung, and noona also sometimes obligatory? where you don't have the alternative of calling them by their names so you're obligated to call them by those pronouns? doesn't this then take away the nice connotations (closeness, respect, and comfortableness) that the word was intended for?

sorry for the many questions. it's just an interesting subject.
my language has the same types of words, but i don't think there are blurry lines to their meanings and such...however, i rarely use them with people outside my family because it just makes me uncomfortable. yet, pronouns like these are always a nice contrast to some of the more brash manners that come with English.

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ho ho ho hoooo looking forward to gf's noona...best be flattering tht one if not many a hearts will be broken here considering the number of haaaawt young 'uns that are being shoved down our old lady throats these days lol!

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I didn't get all the oppa nuances even though I'm KA until I started watching kdramas. I myself feel very uncomfortable calling anyone oppa except my one and only brother and he didn't become an oppa until he got married. His korean raised wife thought it was so weird that we called him by his first name and asked my parents to tell his little sisters to call him "oppa". I went from calling him nothing since I felt ackward calling him oppa to eventually calling him oppa within a couple of years. Also I only call my oldest sister "unni" since I thought that was actually her name while all my other sisters are called by their first names.

A kdrama that distills the use of oppa for me is in MNIKSS. Chae Ri calls Hyun Bin oppa since his family and her family are close and also shows her interest in him romantically but she calls her betrothed "ajusshi" which annoys the ajusshi since he is only a couple years older than Hyunbin. I still LOL thinking how happy the dude was when Chae Ri started calling him oppa.

I personally hate the OPW from a feminist point of view though I've come to terms with it in the context of kdramas. I've been to k-restaurants where a young girl behind me would employ it on her oppa and I've always wanted to barf.

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this is so fun! thanks jb! another series to look forward to!

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@ jb and @coollady
compare jb awkward feel when she asked to call her unni... with our feelings about these familial "ranks"after me ...our language is almost as specific as korean language is...and after me I can't see English as an informal language when the pronom "you" is for singular and plural too.. speaking such a language to me "you" is always as in singular ...I'm sorry but this is how I feel so in our language talking formal or informal is a pretty big deal at work... and this determinates who are your close friends... but with boyfriends we rarely speak with an "ssi" equvalent... when you want to put a distance between you and you friend just say "Mister" and now rarely in some families the younger ones would say "matale" like in"yours" to the elders

so for me "You" is with 2 edges knife... for me is like no polite pronoms were invented ever...so not all the ppl won't understand such a "ranking"

on the other hand I fell too that the one who calls "hyung" or "unni"would recognize superiority... and this would work in a world like Korea... but in my country the bows or relationships leveling too obvious and in every moment of our life would never work

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iam not asian but my country i can"t call my big bro by his name or my sis if they are older then me us bro i have to call him { aboowe}means bro or oppa ,us sis she is [ABAAYO] means sis or, unni, and my mom like her icant call by their name too ,have to call them aunt same us my dad FR too they are uncle too even my FR their mothers too or my neighbor parrents can't call their names too and my husband sametimes i call him like honey or baby or [ABOOWE] THAT MEANS BRO EVEN THO HE IS MY HUSBAND OR SAME TIMES WE CALL LIKE OUR 1ST SON'S NAME exp[ MOHMED'S MOM OR MOHMED DAD] by the way I CAN ALLOW TO MARRY MY 1ST COUZEN TOO

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Wait! There's a 4th kind! The sugar daddy oppa! This is when a young woman (read: gold digger) calls her much older "boyfriend" oppa! There's an "euww ick" factor to it, but it happens!

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Dear javabeans,

This post is an excellent example of how you treat the fun subject of kdramas in such an interesting and intelligent and FUN way!!! I so appreciate this...such a great insight into the Korean psyche, I think.

Can you address the situation where a girl calls her boyfriend/husband "hyung"?
(The first time I ever heard this occurred when the dying doctor calls her boyfriend, played by Jang Hyuk, "hyung" in "Thank You". I was so bewildered. It also happens in the movie "Naked Kitchen" when Shin Mina's character calls her husband "hyung".)

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when I call my husband "brother" is annoyed like hell... he is like "you should never think of me like that"... I think he's afraid that someday he will lack sex>:)...btw he has a sis

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in malay language or malay culture, it's pretty much the same. 'abang' has the same definition as 'oppa'. in simple term, 'abang' simply means an older brother in sibling relationship, but also can be used to call an older man than u. but certain ppl also uses 'abang' in a romantic context, means to call their love ones, and also their spouses (yes, husbands! even older lady still uses 'abang'). 'abang' is also the term of respect to an older person, means we can call someone in the work 'abang'-name if we're close with them (for example, the person's name is daniel, abang daniel instead of korean's way, daniel-oppa).
'abang' - like oppa, can also make a man go jumpy2 and softy because i believe, in man's point of view, it makes them feel younger and it seems the girl is using the term of endearment, can indicates closeness or flirting (for a favor).
'abang' can also be used both by lady or man, means both can address the older man as 'abang' (instead of korean's oppa & hyung)
but 'abang' is also optional, even in siblings relationship, as certain people would address names or formal term 'encik' (Mr.) to call the person. it depends on which u are used to or in which settings ur using it (me personally i do not call my brother 'abang')

in short, yes, in malay we also use 'abang' ('oppa' )for these 3 contexts: blood relative, an older man, and romantic context

that is why, when korean uses the word 'oppa' quite often in different contexts and different settings, i can understand those meanings and feelings involved. just thought i'd share this.

side note: i also can see why certain male feel flustered when being called 'ahjussi' as this also sounds like a really old term to call a man, i believe the malay equivalent to it is 'pak cik'

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I, being a Korean-American who speaks Korean fairly well, have never really thought about this, as the word was pretty natural to me. But this is interesting! lol
I never realized all the confusions that come with the word Oppa, especially for non-native speakers.

As for myself, I'm 15 years old, and I have a brother who is 20. When I was little (and in Korea), naturally, I used to call him Oppa. But since about 3+ years ago (a while after I've been in America), I've just stopped calling him Oppa. I don't even call him by his name. In fact, I realize that I just call him "hey" or "yo" or something like that. lol. Sometimes, when I need something more than "hey" or "yo" to address him, I find it difficult to push the word "oppa" out of my mouth. But to me, calling my brother by his name seems even more strange. So I guess I'm just kind of stuck between two cultures lol. But I have no problem referring to him as Oppa, I just can't directly call him by that title. How weird. I wish I could just fix it lol.

I'm really looking forward to girlfriday's analysis on the word "Noona," as it's not something that I use (duhh). Maybe it'll give me some more insight :D

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This might be the best post I've ever come across, Javabeans! It hadn't even occurred to me to think about the various uses of "oppa" although I was pleasantly surprised to find while reading your post that I'd already figured all of this out just by watching lots of kdramas. I'd just never thought about it, so this was wonderful.

@ coollady : Like you, I absolutely cannot stand the use of "oppa" with a non-brother, but in MY case, I know it's because I'm an Americanized woman who is applying my Western views to a different culture. Not quite the most brilliant thing to do. Still, I tend to be VERY sensitive to this stuff (as CU readers are well aware) because during my younger years I was raised in a country where women are very, very subordinate, and it drove my family crazy how fiercely independent I was even as a child. Moving to the US as a tween was the best thing that ever happened to me.

While watching kdramas I also quickly picked up on the use of "oppa" but it didn't bother me until I encountered my first O-P-W "op-paaaaaaaaaaaa" and that has ruined it for me. It's a pity, because one thing I do love about Korean culture and my own childhood culture is the huge emphasis on community, family, relationships and respect of elders. But then there's a whole bunch of other stuff usually comes with it, and you have to take it or leave it.

That being said, I admit to a huge double standard, because while I cannot stand hearing a girl call a non-brother "oppa" I absolutely LOVE hearing males call women "noona" or "noonim", especially if the male in question is a non-brother hottie. That's just my female bias speaking, so I am soooo excited about Girlfriday's "noona" post. I'm especially eager to discuss it as it applies to romantic relationships since there seems to be a lot more hesitation in Korea regarding older women with younger men. Hmm, I wonderful if Min-jae from TWWSWTM will make an appearance in Girlfriday's post.

@ 85 Leona : Very funny. My hubby is actually a bit younger than I am, so I don't have to worry about what to call him. I just call him "boy-toy." He hates that. Then he retaliates by calling me "ma'am", and then I have to lay down the law and regulate!

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@88 my hubby is with almost 4 years younger than I am..but mine doesn't retaliate ....

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also, in 'smile, you' hyun soo coerces jung in into calling him oppa and then as soon as she does, he gets really excited and just stares at her lips! and he calls himself her oppa in front of han se to make him jealous!

thanks for the informative info!
i love the idea for this series!
also, question for anyone
you know how you can make noona- noonim and hyung- hyungnim
is oraboni that form of oppa? why is that not used much and noonim and hyungnim seem to be used often in drama?
and also is there a formal form of unni?

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noonim and hyungnim is a higher level than without -nim...

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Javabeans, I love it when your posts touch on the subjects of the Korean language and the Korean culture. I'm not Korean myself; I'm from Southeast Asia, but currently in America, so I'm in the middle of a whole cultural mesh, and I love seeing different aspects of it. Your blog does a wonderful job highlighting Korean things and that's definitely my favorite thing about your posts!

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I'm vietnamese so this is really easy to understnad because instead of oppa we use "anh" for older guys,older brothers,boyfriends and husbands =)

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Great post and thanks, JB! Can't wait to read GF's Noona.

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@ 36 Biscuit - I know personally and have heard of many older female/younger male relationships in which the older female calls her younger boyfriend "oppa". As this entry shows, in Korea, titles and what you call someone is tricky and loaded. When an older female calls her younger boyfriend oppa, it brings him up to her level. He's no longer just the younger boyfriend chasing after his older noona, he's her equal, if not a greater member of the relationship - it places more responsibility on him to man up and take the lead. Most women I know want their partners/boyfriends/husbands/lovers to take the lead at least some, if not all of the time. By calling your younger boyfriend "oppa" you've put him in that position - he's not your younger boyfriend, he's not some little kid, he's the man in the relationship.

When you're younger, everybody is your oppa, because that's the way the social hierarchy works - you don't call older people by their names. But, as this entry points out, as women get older, they have more options of what to call newly acquainted men. Once they reach their 20s or so, or have graduated from school, and have found gainful employment, few women call older men oppa because you are no longer at the very bottom of the social hierarchy. You have achieved a certain place in life and what you call others, just as what others call you, is linked to your status/position. It's usually their title, work or school related (sunbae, shiljangnim, teamjangnim) or the full or first name + ssi (i.e. Yoon DooJoonSsi or DooJoonSsi), or in some (rarer) instances, the full or first name + nim (i.e. Yoon DooJoonNim or DooJoonNim).

My husband is younger than I am. I have never (except on the rare occasion, *see below) called him oppa, but as a matter of respect, I don't call him by his first name. He's never called me noona (because we weren't at that stage of life where it would have been appropriate) and he's rarely called me by my first name either. Before we got married, we had our own names for each other and now that we have a little one, I call him papa. When I refer to him in Korean, I do first name +ssi or baby's name + appa or refer to him as my sillang. I only use his first name when I'm speaking to other English speaking or non-Korean people. Our kid found it very amusing and interesting to learn that mama and papa have names just like he does. He actually thought our names were mama and papa.

@83 Robin - Or like women who work at bars of one kind or another and call all of their male patrons oppa. Men in bars lurve to be called oppa.

*On the rare occasion, I have called my husband oppa when he's been ridiculously broody and grumpy and not wanting to let something drop. I've pulled the OPW and he just looks at me like, Have you completely lost your mind?!?!? It's usually enough to make him roll his eyes a few times and snap out of it - anything to stop the whining. And then we laugh our asses off at how ridiculous I sounded.

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Still remembered ebb I called my friend as oppa, he was so happy. Then I teased him n called him ahjussi.. But I can see how Korean men are happy to be called as an oppa.:)

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I tried to stay away. **sigh** (I'm not watching any drama at the moment) But your site just keep on getting better and more interesting. First Girl Friday is on board. (Yipee!!) Then that kdrama addictions stories. Some of it describe me to a tee. And then this glossary thingy. Interesting, informative and great fun.

10 mins, I promised myself. But more than an hour passed. I'm still here. Your blog is addicting. Just like kdrama. Excellent work JB!

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Oooh, this was so informative and entertaining at the same time. And that Open Thread was just hilarious... I need to go practice my OPW, i never fully grasped its power ...

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"Could you imagine the reaction she’d get if Eun-jo ever tried to call Ki-hoon oppa? I’m guessing that would be the first and last time, since he’d be dead from shock. "
*DYING* HAHAHHAHA I can't even begin to imagine that. It's ..scary.

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I think this was very interesting for someone like me who is not Korean. I was able to figure out pretty much all these different meanings of how people address each other from the many dramas I've seen. But still, it was really nice to read about it and also to confirm that my guesses were right. In terms of the those other words though (not having to do with how people address each other) - I still have not quite figured out. And am looking for to finally seeing to light on those terms.

In chinese, there are can be a lot of different terms of what to call very specific people, and in particular relatives (also depends on your dialect). So I can see where it can get confusing! Thanks so much for starting this to help us understand better :) appreciate it very much.

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