Kpop Culture Day 1: What’s an Oppa?

What’s an Oppa?

When you listen to Kpop songs, a new set of vocabulary tends to come with the territory. Fans of Kpop often use phrases that people wouldn’t use to show affection for an American pop band or singer. These phrases or words often come from the Korean language, and also pop up frequently in Kpop songs. When I first started listening to Kpop, I listened to a boy band called Super Junior. I found myself often confused by the comments, which read something to the effect of, “Ooo, oppa you’re so sexy =D” or “I love Siwon oppa‘s hair in this video.” “What’s an Oppa?” was the first culture question I had to ask of my fellow youtube users, and I’m very glad that they didn’t try to mess with me because I was such a new kpop fan.

Korea, like most Asian countries, has an honorific system based on age. It is considered very rude to refer to anyone by just their first name unless you are really close and are the same age. Koreans add a word called an honorific after their name to denote how formal the relationship is between the two people. If you’re younger than person you want to get close to, you use an honorific base noun denoted for brother and sisters or very close people. Oppa (오빠) is the term a younger girl would use when addressing an older guy, because it means ‘older brother’. If the girl is addressing older girl, she would use the word eonni (언니) instead. For guys, they would use the word hyung (형) if they are addressing an older guy, and noona (누나) if they are addressing an older girl. An older person would address their younger friend as dong saeng (동생). This rule can be broken in cases of formality. For example, say your coworker is younger than you, but has spent more time at your workplace than you have. Since they have seniority, it would be more proper to address them as if they were older in age than you, because they have more experience in this context.

Also, there’s a separate word for people who are older and younger than the person speaking, that is only used in the third person. Say you’re in high school. The grade below you would be your hubaes (후배), which means ‘juniors’, and the grade above you would be your seonbaes (선배), which means ‘seniors’. You don’t address a person directly by saying “Hey Seonbae/Hubae,” instead you would say “Oh, she’s my seonbae/hubae, and call her dongsaeng if she’s younger than you and use the appropriate ending if she’s older than you.

For help writing and speaking these words, watch K WOW Episode 4.

Until next time,
Rebecca

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