What does Oppa mean in Korean?

What does Oppa mean?

Meaning of oppa

Oppa (오빠) means something like “older brother” and should only be used by girls. Pretty simple huh? Well, not exactly, because the word doesn’t translate directly to English without losing a lot of important information. “A female’s older brother”  seems like a good enough definition, doesn’t it? Well, in Korean culture, brother implies family just like in the west. What differs, however, is our view of family. While we (the foreigners) usually see family as closely blood related, Koreans can see their friends as uncles (granted the age difference is large enough) and cousins as brothers and sisters. This has caused me some confusion I must admit. My close Korean friend stated once that she was the only child but one day she told me, in English, in a text when I asked her if she wanted to meet, that she was on her way to see her brother. “Brother?” I quickly replied, also asking if she at one point didn’t say that she was the only child. “Yes,” she responded, “it’s actually my cousin but we’re like siblings.” Aha…

Oppa is not only family!

So if:

  • you consider someone family
  • you’re female
  • he’s male and older than you but not your dad or grandpa or anything like that, or super old

you can call him “oppa”? In most cases, yes! But if the age gap is too large, “oppa” might not be appropriate. What is too large then? Well, there’s no defined rule but the age difference is usually considered large if it’s more than 2 years. Yes, 2 years, but it will depend on what kind of relationship you have. Of course, if it’s really your TRUE brother, it doesn’t really apply here. Also, he could just be your older guy friend and it would be appropriate! The “brother” part kind of loses its meaning right? Well, we ain’t done yet!

You could be dating your oppa!

Eew? Yes, that’s right. If you’ve watched Korean drama, you’ve probably heard girls call their boyfriends this. And in the case of kpop idols, you don’t even have to date him for you to be holding up that sign saying “I love you, oppa!” So in reality, you don’t have to consider him, in the English sense of the word, a brother. There’s a nuance of respect in this word as well. Because he’s older (and not born in the same year!), you have to show him respect in numerous ways (a very, very large topic) and this is one, albeit small, way of doing that. Because in Korea, if they are older than you, it’s not really appropriate to call them by ONLY their first name (this too is a really large topic).

Are you confused?

It’s not that complicated actually. If you’re a girl, he’s older than you and you feel like you have a good relationship, just ask him if you can call him “oppa.” Or just do it without asking! Nothing bad can come from it!

You’ve probably (and by “probably” I actually mean “most definitely”) heard the song Gangnam Style.  Can you hear what he says right before “Gangnam style?” Hint: It starts with “o.”

By Kimchi Cloud