For all you Koreans out there, you are definitely familiar with the following subject. For all you K-Drama fans and foreigners, as well as K-culture newbies out there, you’ve most likely noticed these words used in some way or another in your favourite Korean shows, on the street, in your circle of colleagues, classmates and friends; and yet you still cannot with utmost certainty pinpoint what is stands for. The term “Oppa” remains one of the most complex words in everyday Korean lingo, simply because of its poly-interpretative nature. One could say that it has many meanings and definitions, depending mostly on who you are speaking with/to and how, as well as on the intonation used and the context it is employed in.
The Korean language uses an extensive system of “honorifics” to indicate the speaker’s relation to those he/she is speaking with/to. This system derives from the Confucian philosophy on life. Some of these terms include:
형/형님 (hyeong/hyeongnim) -> A male’s older Brother (not necessarily blood-related, can be a friend)
누나/누님 (noona/noonim) -> A male’s older sister (not necessarily blood-related, can be a friend)
오빠 (oppa) -> A female’s older brother (not necessarily blood-related, can be a friend or boyfriend)
언니 (eonni) -> A female’s older sister (not necessarily blood-related, can be a friend)
선배 (seonbae) -> An older colleague, classmate or mentor
In my case, I sometimes feel awkward using “오빠 / Oppa” or even “자기야 / Jagiya” (literally meaning “other half”), when addressing my significant other. I feel it just sounds strange when employed within a predominantly English sentence/conversation. Maybe I’ll become more comfortable once I master the Korean language. Maybe not… we shall see.
To combat the awkwardness, I often use humour. Hence why I call him “아저씨 / Ajhussi” (older man) … Mwahahaa It makes me giggle, but it often annoys him, which brings me to another subject that I will address in a future post “The fear of ageing in Korean culture”.
Anywho, hope this makes some of you reminisce and laugh. For those dating a Korean person, how do YOU address him/her?!?!?!