Since we discussed about the many different Korean terms for “aunt,” it’s only appropriate that we give an equal treatment to its counterpart, “uncle.”
Please note that I’m going to approach this post with the assumption that you’ve read and understood everything that was discussed in the earlier Korean language and cultures series: Aunty, are you there?
So let’s proceed now, shall we? And as always, we’ll use examples from dramas to illustrate our point.
Earlier, we learned that “emo” refers to your mother’s (older or younger) sister and that “gomo” refers to your father’s (older or younger) sister.
Well, their husbands are emobu and gomobu, respectively. Both emo and gomo are Sino-Korean words, and the Hanja for “bu” (夫) in “emobu” and “gomobu” is that of a “husband.” Thus, emobu literally means “emo’s husband,” just as gomobu literally means “gomo’s husband.”
In Again My Love, Yoon-hee (PARK YE JIN) calls her uncle “emobu.” We are able to quickly gather that this Jung-nam character is her mom’s sister’s husband.
Contrast this with Best Love, in which Ding Dong (YANG HAN YEOL) calls Dokgo Jin (CHA SEUNG WON) his “gomobu” after he marries Gu Ae-jung. Ding Dong’s gomo (aunt), Gu Ae-jung, is his father’s sister, and so when Dokgo Jin marries Gu Ae-jung, he becomes Ding Dong’s gomobu.
Note that the subtitles translate both words as “uncle.” But next time you watch these scenes, pay special attention to what the characters actually call each other.
Emobu and gomobu are actually a pretty easy concept to remember. But things get a little more complicated when speaking of your parent’s brothers. Since there are different terms available depending on the specific circumstances, we’re going to first list all these terms.
1. Keun abeoji (also called “keun appa”): Literally means “older dad” or “big dad,” it is a term for your FATHER’S hyung (older brother). The Sino-Korean word “baekbu” is also available, but rarely used nowadays. When used, men tend to use the Sino-Korean terms more often than women. [Note: The "bu" in baekbu uses a different Hanja (Chinese character) from that of emobu or gomobu. Whereas the "bu" in emobu and gomobu uses 夫 (the Chinese character for "husband"), the "bu" in baekbu (and sookbu below) uses 父 (the Chinese character for "father").]
If your father has many older brothers, it is customary to number the uncles. In that case, the eldest uncle would be keun abeoji or keun appa. The second oldest would be “second keun abeoji/appa” (sometimes shortened to just “second abeoji/appa”), the third oldest would be “third keun abeoji/appa” (sometimes shortened to just “third abeoji/appa”), etc.
When using Sino-Korean, your father’s eldest brother is called “baekbu.” The second eldest brother is sometimes called “joongbu.” That said, I’ve never seen the term joongbu used in real life.
2. Jak-eun abeoji (also called “jak-eun appa”): Literally means “younger dad” or “little dad,” it is a term for your FATHER’S younger married brother. [Note: The Sino-Korean word "sookbu" is also available, but like baekbu, it is not as used often nowadays.]
If your father has many younger brothers, it is customary to number the uncles. (e.g., First jak-eun abeoji/appa, second jak-eun abeoji/appa, etc.)
When using Sino-Korean, your father’s younger brothers would be “sookbu.” If there are many younger brothers,the youngest is sometimes called “gyebu.” That said, like “joongbu” above, I’ve never seen the term “gyebu” used in real life.
3. Samchon: Bella and I disagreed on whether “samchon” is an acceptable term to use on your father’s married brother, but as generally used, “samchon” refers to your FATHER’S younger unmarried brother.
4. Weh samchon (frequently just shortened to “samchon”): It is a term for your MOTHER’S (older or younger) brother, whether single or married. Since shortening “weh samchon” to “samchon” may cause confusion because it is the same word as the example in #3, people may add back the “weh” if there are grounds for confusion.
The Sino-Korean term “weh sookbu” is used in the same manner as “weh samchon.” Like “weh samchon,” “weh sookbu” is used to refer to your MOTHER’S (older or younger) brother, whether single or married.
In The Princess’s Man, the young king (King Danjong) calls Grand Prince Suyang his “sookbu.” Here, Suyang is the younger brother of Danjong’s father, King Munjong. As this example illustrates, characters often use Sino-Korean terms in sageuk dramas.
In contrast, Koreans nowadays use the native Korean counterparts. For example, Ra-ra (HAN HYE RIN) calls her uncle “jak-eun appa” in New Gisaeng Story. This indicates that the uncle is the younger brother to Ra-ra’s dad.
But of course, since New Gisaeng Story is a makjang drama, the man who she thought was her “jak-eun appa” was in fact her birth father. Instead, the man and the woman who raised her were her “keun appa” and her “keun umma.”
Whereas Ra Ra’s “jak-eun appa” is a married man, Han Jung-won’s (KIM HYUN JOO) uncle, Han Seo-woo (PARK YOO HWAN), in Twinkle Twinkle is a young, unmarried 18 year old. Seo-woo was born between Jung-won’s paternal grandfather and his much younger secretary, and thus, is her father’s half-brother. She calls him “samchon.”
In The Duo, Kim Jin-sa (CHOI JONG HWAN) is Gwi-dong’s (LEE SANG YOON) mom’s brother. Gwi-dong calls him “weh samchon,” angrily saying that if he was not his “weh samchon,” he would take revenge on him for his teacher. As Gwi-dong’s maternal uncle, Kim Jin-sa is a “samchon” to Gwi-dong even though he had been married before or is currently married.
People often drop the “weh” in everyday speech. For example, in My Love By My Side, Bong Woo-dong (MOON CHUN SHIK) is the younger brother of Do Mi-sol’s (LEE SO YEON) mother, Bong Sun Hwa (KIM MI SOOK). Although technically Woo-dong would be Mi-sol’s “weh samchon,” she shortens it and calls him simply as “samchon.”
There are some variations to the terms listed above, such as making the terms more respectful by adding “-nim” as a suffix (e.g. “Sookbu-nim”). There are also some regional variations. But by knowing these basic terms, you should be able to figure out the relationships between all the uncle characters in any given drama.