Have you ever wondered why you call your idols, ‘oppa’? ‘Oppa’ (오빠) means ‘older brother’ in Korean. It is used when younger females want to address older males. To be more polite and to specifically mention the person, you usually add the person’s name in front. For example, 지민 오빠 (Jimin oppa).
Let’s go a little further into this. What about when a younger female addresses an older female? You call her, ‘eonnie’ (언니).
Don’t get confused just yet because there’s more to come! You might have noticed the stark difference that exists between the Korean and the English language. In the English language, there is no difference when you address an older person regardless of your gender. If you’re a younger male and would like to address an older male, you simply address them by their name. If he is your older sibling, you just call him your older brother. The same rule applies when you’re a female addressing an older sibling.
As you have noticed, the terms ‘oppa’ and ‘eonnie’ sound very feminine and the Korean culture is very big on masculinity so if you’re a younger male addressing an older male, you call him ‘hyung’ (형) and when you’re addressing an older female, you call her ‘noona’ (누나).
This video here by DramaFever goes into closer detail on how to address people properly.
Here’s also a video of the Super Junior boys crashing Super Junior D&E’s stage of ‘Oppa Oppa‘. You can watch this for more practice, but be careful not to faint first from the goodiness of this video.
It might be confusing for people who do not speak or have no clue at all about the Korean language. But let’s be real, Korea takes addressing people pretty seriously. If you use the wrong phrase, you might get a few weird stares from strangers but if your friends are nice enough, they’ll correct you with a smile and if they’re even nicer, they’ll just laugh at you and not tell you what’s wrong until you make a fatally embarrassing mistake (I’m just kidding.)
You might be wondering why Korea is so specific about or like we sometimes say anal about addressing people. That’s because a huge part of the Korean culture is about respect and also the invisible social hierarchy. Of course it doesn’t mean that they use street names or gang signs. To put it simply, just that in different social settings, there is an invisible hierarchy that sets itself up of who’s of a higher ranking than the other. Although it might not be directly visible, it shows especially well when certain actions are being carried out. For example, when water is being served, usually what we know as the ‘maknae’ (막내) which means the youngest or one of the youngest people in the group will be the one pouring the water and then serving it, usually in order of first to the person who is highest in rank and he/she would be the last one to get the water.
It is not so much of who makes more money or who has more houses, it’s just a gesture of respect and honour in social situations to people who are of higher ranks. It has evolved itself all the way from the ancient Joseon dynasty era where the number of side-dishes served to you during your meals is congruent to your social class.
If you have noticed, Koreans are also very respectful to their elders. This also stems from the respect portion in the Korean culture. Watch more Korean dramas and you’ll soon get used to it! And when you meet someone Korean and address them correctly, they’ll be so amazed they’ll exclaim daebak! (대박)
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Article by: Cass Zheng @kAvenyou