For our one year anniversary…

I can’t believe how fast time flies, but Electric Ground will turn one in just a little over a month! I’ve noticed that many other blogs hold contests and giveaways to celebrate their blog anniversary. I thought about what would be the most “Electric Ground” way to celebrate, and this is what I came up with…

Some of our most popular posts have been those in the Korean language and culture series. And some of the most frequently asked questions and requests have been those regarding four specific Korean words. You’ve guessed it! They are “oppa,” “unni” (also spelled as “eonni”), “hyung” (also spelled as “hyeong”), and “noona” (also spelled as “nuna”). Whenever a reader asked a question about these terms, I always just gave a cursory response with a promise to elaborate on it in a future post. But the truth is that I was too lazy and intimidated to handle these beasts of a topic.

But I decided that a one year anniversary was special enough of an occasion to actually get off my lazy butt and finally cover these four magical words. Many others have given their answers, and although there are some very good and thorough explanations out there, I’ve always found them incomplete. The truth is that there are multiple meanings and usages for these terms, and hence much confusion continues to exist.

Here’s where you come in. From surfing around the web, I think I know what are the areas that cause the most confusion. But to guarantee that these upcoming posts are as thorough as they can be, please post in the comments section below whatever questions you may have about these four words – oppa, unni, hyung, and noona. Direct others over here who may have questions about these terms and let them ask away too. You have exactly a month to post your questions, and during this one month, I’ll be busy writing away and incorporating your questions into my response in time for Electric Ground’s one year anniversary.

I’ll keep this post featured for a month so that you can easily find it on the “featured slider.” The caveat is that once these posts get published on this blog, I refuse to answer any more questions on this topic. So, like what Yoo Jae Suk was so fond of saying in Family Outing, the time is right now!

Some helpful tips for asking your questions:

1. Please be as specific as possible. For instance, here is a great and specific question: “Why do the other gisaengs call Cho-sun ‘hyungnim’ in Sungkyunkwan Scandal? I thought ‘hyung’ was only used between guys?”

2. If possible, be even more specific. There’s a possibility that I might not have seen the drama you mention, so it’d be greatly helpful for me if you give a specific episode number and the time in which a particular word is used.

3. Even if your question is not from a drama, please still give details. For example, if you observed a friend call someone noona and you’re wondering why he didn’t call another person a noona as well, provide me with the details about the people involved. What is their gender? How old are the parties involved? Are they Korean (from Korea) or are they Korean-American, for instance? The truth is that there might be individual differences involved.

And in closing, thank you everyone for making the blogging experience so much fun this past year (umm, 11 months)! May there be many more fun years to come!



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  1. D

    ooh first! ok question….. I noticed that Hyungnim is a term that is also used for Sisters- in- law…how exactly does that work? For example in the drama Life is Beautiful Kim Hae Sook’s character is called by this term by Jang Mi Hee character who is about to marry her husband’s younger brother.

    1. zgznoona

      I think that is explained in an older entry of Korean Language and Culture

      1. blue

        But that was for hyungsu-nim. (Hyungnim and hyungsu-nim are two different terms.) D is right. Hyungnim can be used between certain sisters-in-law.

        1. zgznoona

          I’m always learning new vocabulary thanks to you

  2. Iviih

    What about the article about the ”sshi/shi” term used on the end of names? Not demanding, just saying.

    I once asked about it here, if shi were used to indicate how intimate a relationship was or if it was used just by people who aren’t that close, if it was a term used for formality – i.e like the ”yo” at the end of the sentences? Why between people who are close they still use it and why some don’t.

    At that time, you replied that no, even if the people are close they still use it and it have nothing to do with being close or not (something like this) and said that to explain the term ”sshi” you needed an own post for it alone… I’m still confused about this term, and would be happy if you could explain how/why/when they use it. Thanks a lot. Sorry for bothering again about this…

    1. blue

      Ah, thanks for reminding me! That post will come along with the one-year anniversary post!

  3. zenti

    In You’ve Fallen for Me, why did Yeo Joon Hee (Kang Min Hyuk’s character) call Han Hee Joo (Woo Ri’s character) as unni? When it was supposed to be a noona? Was wondering about it. Thanks!

    1. meme

      I think, in his case….it’s a way of adding personality to his character. Perhaps it’s the dramas way of showing you just how eccentric and oddball he is. He was slightly off but cute though, wasn’t he?

    2. Raine

      This, too, is one of my questions. I was confused as hell. I generally get the relationships and the word usage, but this one baffled me and I couldn’t find it on ze web!

    3. nonski

      oh here goes something that’s been bugging my mind. i;ll just post another one below.

  4. birdscout

    First, may I just say that your Korean Culture and Language Series is a fantastic, informative and interesting primer for all Kdrama watchers? Thank you so much!

    My questions: in the first episode of the drama “Thank You”, the female doctor played by Choi Kang-hee calls her boyfriend, a doctor played by Jang Hyuk, “hyung”.
    In the movie “The Naked Kitchen”, the wife played by Shin Mina calls her husband “hyung”. Can you explain when a girl/woman would call a boy/man “hyung”?

    It wasn’t until after my older brothers got married that I learned of the term “ol-cae”(spelling?) unni. Can you elaborate a bit on that term?

    Again, thank you for providing this forum for getting our questions answered. As Ju Yoo-rin from “My Girl” would say, “You will be blessed!” :)

    1. muchadoboutlove

      oh, the term ol-cae/ ulkay is also used in Royal Family, where Jo Hyun-Jin (Cha Ye-Ryun) calls her sister-in-law Kim In-Sook (Yum Jung-Ah) “ulkay” after their relationship starts to get better.

  5. june

    how lax is the word oppa? I’ve always thought oppa was for guys who are close to the girl but for example, teenagers calling their idols oppa, is it considered normal? what if the celebrities are like, 30 or 40 years old are they still called oppa? hehe thanks so much!!

  6. Arana

    I noticed that the terms “hyung” and “unni” seem to be also used by people who are not blood-related or even family-related, but are close friends, or have some sort of kinship-like relationship (?).

    In any case, the terms are used between people, who had been strangers at the initial point of their acquaintance. And as such, they would not be using these terms from the very beginning of their relationship. My question is: what are the common transition points at which the terms get adopted into a relationship? How would initial strangers arrive to the point of using these terms? And who would usually initiate the change in address? (the younger person or the older one to whom the term is applied?) Are there certain gestures/signals/events, which would commonly (almost always) trigger the adoption of “hyung”/”unni” address? (for example, would being a recipient of some sort of favor signal to the younger person that the use of “hyung”/”unni” is now required? what types of favors would those be? or what other circumstances might trigger it?)

    Thank you! And happy Anniversary!
    And thank you again for your Korean Culture and Language Series!

  7. Raine

    I’m watching Sang Doo, Let’s Go to School. Between Sang-doo and his love/agemate/former classmate Eun-hwan there are a few tiffs about how to address her. They used banmal the entirety of their relationship and I understand why its appropriate for him to speak in jondaemal in school as he is now her student. But she keeps insisting he use it all the time. Why is that? Is it an attempt to create distance? I thought that once you lower your speech you don’t go back save to hide a relationship from people or something of the like.

    Thanks again!

  8. supah

    I feel like I’m spazzing on every single one of your posts lately. Sorry ’bout that. But congrats on one year of Electric Ground! I’m so happy to have discovered this little treasure of a blog. I (heart) this place!

    1. blue

      Hey, spazz as much as you want! I always love reading your thoughts!

  9. nonski

    wow! congratulations blue on you 1 year anniversary. :) says a lot that softy’s is also turning one. skks being the driving force huh?

    thanks so much for staying true and picking up this topic for your anniversary special i so love your korean language and culture series! i get to learn, a lot! thanks for being so generous and for sharing your knowledge about this things. it is a great deal for us.

    now for something i wanted to ask… this is about the word nuna, which i find amusing since it sounds the same as my name too. i would like younger males at our site to call me nuna. sometimes tho, out of fun, some would call me ajumma, joking that i am way older than them to be called nuna. it was some gamely teasing but i would ask anyways… does the two words nuna and ajumma have the same or almost the same meaning and would change with age?

    thanks blue and more power electric gound!

    p.s. i noted your “currently watching” says you;re into OB but is finding it boring… we are at frenzied craze at softy;s atm due to OB, i hope you’ll continue to watch it. mmm have you tried flower boy? it’s not much but i like the eye candy and could see something of it later, know it;s much cliche and some recycled plots but cute still. and oh, thanks for always updating the drama trailers here.

  10. doozy

    Happy one-year anniversary, blue and bella! Hope for many more to come! *cheers*

  11. kaekae

    I have a hard time understanding the words that are translated as sister-in-law – it sounds like Hyung____ or something like that so I keep thinking I am mishearing.

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