Proper definition: A Korean phrase used by younger women towards older men they are in a relationship with (be it family, friends or dating.)
Fangirl/Internet definition: Something you scream at any hot male idol that happens to get your attention.
My Personal Definition for the past three years: Really ridiculous word used towards males (older or younger, usually younger) to make them feel awkward or make them laugh and relax.
I’ve never really lasted long in Korean lessons. I’ve been able to do basic grammar, but then time constraints stop me from being able to continue. So, everything I’ve learnt in Korean came from the following sources:
- My students
And really, if you have to learn a language from ANYONE, those are some of the worst people to learn languages from. But I digress.
Oppa was one of the words I began to understand pretty early on, mostly through getting into k-pop and seeing the word coming up. A lot. Hell, the first U-Kiss song I ever heard was Shikkeuro, which opens with “Oppa hates you, oppa wants you to shut the hell up”. If that doesn’t make you intrigued, I don’t know what will. When I looked it up, I found the proper definition. But the more I got into the music here, the more I realized that there were two ways people used it. And with both ways, I loved seeing the way it was able to affect guys.
As The Korean over at Ask A Korean explained years back, the word is like kryptonite for lots of guys. A well placed, perfectly pitched “Oppaaa…” can bring down the defences of most Korean men. It gives them a feeling of power, perhaps. The way girls use the term, it sounds very submissive, and can definitely inflate a guy’s ego. But at the same time, it can definitely be used as a weapon. Guys seem to become putty in a girl’s hands at the first uttering of “Oppa~~” and really, while it might make the guys feel like they’re powerful, who’s the one with the power really?
Either way, I grew to love the word. For all the wrong reasons. I knew that every person that I would encounter would be younger than me, and so using the term “oppa” became something I would do ironically. Youngest member of an idol group? Instantly the oppa. The awkward waiter working at a store or restaurant I would go to? Oppa. While I would rarely say it to their faces (because that involves actually having a conversation in Korean, which isn’t happening soon) I would pretty much refer to every male younger than me as oppas. I would even joke and call the “cool kids” in my school the baby oppas. Oppas in training.
I thought I was using the phrase just as a joke. As an outsider, looking in on a piece of culture I might never understand.
However, a few weeks ago, I caught myself thinking something insane. Absolutely ridiculous. It seemed impossible. But I was daydreaming, as one is prone to do when on the train/bus/desk warming/existing, and as a single female who surrounds herself with good looking k-pop idols and music shows, I was day dreaming about having a nice, good looking, Korean boyfriend to call my own and to kakaotalk and to bake for and all those other ridiculously sappy things. The fact I was thinking those things in itself shows I was feeling some serious signs of weakness, because I’m not really the sappy type. But that’s not the point. I found myself wanting to call someone oppa. Sincerely.
It was such a strange thought.
A week or two later, I still wasn’t shaken from this new found understanding of the phrase. Yes, I still think of it ironically and a bit sarcastically. I like referring to the Korean-American males in k-pop as “oppar” simply because it adds extra awkward to an already awkward phrase coming from a foreigner.
Nevertheless, it would be nice to use it genuinely once though.
(Any guy call me noona though and I will go mental on everyone. Unless singing “Noona Neomu Yeoppeo” by SHINee. That is acceptable. And encouraged. ㅋㅋㅋ)