Korean dictionary defines Oppa ( 오빠 ) as “older brother of a female”. However, addressing other people in Korean language is never that simple. To truly understand the meaning of the word oppa, you must understand a bit about Korean culture.
For Koreans, it is really important to observe the relationship between the speaker and the subject of the sentence and the speaker and the audience. That’s just a fancy way to say you must be careful who you are speaking about and who is listening. That sounds paranoid, haha, but it’s actually all about showing respect to those with higher status than you. And who has higher status? Anyone in your family who is older than you, any stranger of equal or greater age, employer, customer, teacher, etc.
This may be difficult for non-Koreans to accept, but if a person is superior to you, you should never use their name or say “you”.
I have already been Kimchi Man’s girlfriend for a few weeks when I realized I don’t know his parents’ names! Feeling like a bad girlfriend, I asked him what their names were. Instead of an answer I just got a few grunts and then silence. Thinking he didn’t understand, which is not a rare occurrence considering neither of us is a native speaker of English, I asked again. Silence. After more prodding I finally realized what the problem was. And it wasn’t until I explained that I would just like to have that as an information and promised never to say their name in front of them, that he finally told me their names.
And if that is not curious enough, I recently read an article stating that there used to be women in Korean villages who didn’t even know their own names! All their lives they had been called sister, daughter, Ms., mother, wife, and they never needed to use their names.
Even if you don’t speak Korean, if you have watched Korean dramas you are probably already familiar with some of this. Hyung, ajusshi, ajumma, seonsaengnim, noona, … Everyone has their title. Did you know that ajusshi and ajumma used to be terms reserved just for family, meaning aunt and uncle? Well, same thing happened with the definition of oppa: it used to be exclusively a family term meaning older brother, but its meaning expanded to mean unrelated older male who you have somewhat close relationship with. What it hasn’t changed is implied respect and superiority of the person you are addressing, and that is something most non-Korean women using this term don’t understand.
Who can I call oppa?
You can say oppa ONLY to an older male. Older person is anyone who was born in the year prior to your birth. So, even if he is a few months older, but born in the same year as you, you can’t call him oppa. Also, it can be strange calling men over certain age oppa. That age is not strictly defined, but probably somewhere over 30.
Why do Korean guys like to be called oppa?
Even though calling a guy oppa can be no more exciting than calling an older woman ajumma, if said with the right tone of voice, it indicates that you like a guy as more than just a friend. And who doesn’t like being liked? It’s flirtatious, and flirting is usually exciting.
Do Korean guys dislike when non-Korean girls call them oppa?
Some Korean guys say ‘yes’ some say ‘no’. But I believe it’s not that simple. It all depends on the intent. First, realize that word itself doesn’t have any magical powers. The magic comes from the person using it. If a foreign girl is going around squealing oppa at a guy she barely knows I can see how that can be a turnoff. But if you wait until you develop a more intimate relationship, and use it sincerely, I’m sure the guy would be pleasantly surprised.
I rarely use oppa with Kimchi Man. It just sounds unnatural to throw in a random Korean word when speaking English. But I once I start speaking Korean with my boyfriend (and hopefully that will be before he becomes ajusshi) I would probably naturally switch to calling him oppa.
How to pronounce oppa?
And that’s all you need to know to give a correct translation of oppa.
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