I’m sure most of you heard of Psy’s Gangnam Style before. If you had, you would have heard the line, “Oppan Gangnam style.” frequently. This literally means in Korean, “Oppa is Gangnam Style.” But what exactly does oppa mean?
In South Korea, there are four terms you will hear people call other people whom they are close with: 오빠 (oppa), 누나 (noona), 언니 (unnie), 형 (hyung)
Now, let me explain this a bit further since it gets more complicated.
If you are a girl, you would call your big brother/older guy friend/older guy cousin: oppa. And you would call your older sister/older friend (who is a girl)/older girl cousin: unnie.
If you are a boy, then you would call your big brother/older guy friend/older guy cousin: hyung. And you would call your older sister/older friend (who is a girl)/older girl cousin: noona.
And let me emphasize that you can only use these terms with people that you are very close with: siblings, best friend/really close friends/ cousins.
You would not call your older male boss “hyung/oppa” or your aunt “noona/unnie” or even your next door neighbor “oppa/hyung/unnie/noona” (unless they happen to be your sibling or best friend).
There is also a term to call your younger sibling/friend/cousin/etc-동생 (dongsaeng). A younger girl sister/friend/cousin is 여동생 (yeodongsaeng) while a younger boy sibling/friend/cousin is 남동생 (namdongsaeng). However, dongsaeng is widely less used than oppa, noona, unnie, and hyung. Most people just call the younger person by their name.
Now, if you are confused on who calls who oppa, noona, unnie, and hyung-let me give you a few examples:
Me to my older brother: “안녕 오빠!/Annyeong oppa!” Hi older brother!
Me to my older girl friend Minji: “언니, 뭐해?/Unnie, mwo-hae?” Minji-ya, what are you doing?
Psy (his real name is Park Jae Sang) to his older brother Park Jae Shin (who I made up for this example): “형, 가자!/Hyung, ga-ja!” Jae Shin-ah, let’s go!
Psy to his older sister Park Yoon Hee (who I made up for this example): “누나, 차 마실래?/Noona, cha mashillae?” Yoon Hee-ya, would you like to drink some tea?