Please Answer Me, Sister

Good Man and I both had pretty stressful Fridays. Good Man was harshly scolded for something by Mother over the phone. He called back several minutes later to explain why he shouldn’t’ve been scolded. Mother was out (really?) but he talked to Sister.

With a voice full of care and sympathy, Sister said “어, 형…”

When Good Man hung up, I asked him why his sister called him “hyeong.” Hyeong is the term men use with older brothers; obba/oppa is the term Sister should use.

He shrugged, “I don’t know. Ask her.”

So I sent Sister an email. Here is it (complete with typos!).

시누이, 정에 [굿맨이] 널 전화했어. 그리고 [굿맨] 마음이 앞았어, 그리고 시누이는 “어… 형” 라고 말했어. 왜 “형” 말 했어? 남자 아니야. [굿맨]한테 물었지만 몰라 라고 말했어.

대답해 줘. ^^


Sister replied Saturday afternoon.

아하! 형이라고 부른건,
어릴 때 부터 그냥 오빠에게 형이라고 가끔 불렀어요ㅋㅋ

옛날 (1980년대?)에 대학교 여학생들이 친한 남자 선배들에게 ‘형’ 이라고 불렀어요.
물론 지금 2000년대에는 그렇게 안 불러요..^^

저는 그냥 가끔 오빠에게 형 이라고 불러요ㅋㅋ
마치 미국사람들이 hey man~ or hi guys 라고 인사 하듯이요ㅋ

조금 이해 됐어요?? 크 크

Sister’s reply was that in the 80s on college campuses girls would often use 형 with male friends (it’s not as common now). Ever since she and Good Man were young, she’d occasionally call him 형.

Well, that makes sense… I guess.

One thought on “Please Answer Me, Sister

  1. Comment from: Palila [Visitor] ·
    :) Pet names. TCB’s family still sometimes doesn’t realize that “George” (Georgia) is my sister.
    11/23/09 @ 01:22

    Comment from: admin [Member] Email
    But I don’t think it’s quite a family name…if it were, Good Man would know it.
    11/23/09 @ 16:16

    Comment from: SKFK [Visitor]
    As someone who was a college student in the ’80’s, I can confirm that what Sister said about the term originating in that time period is absolutely correct. I believe it came about partly as an attempt by young women to overcome the deep-rooted gender inequality by appropriating a word that was exclusively used by men. I recall reading editorials in conservative newspapers at the time decrying the practice as destructive to “proper” gender roles.

    A more humorous explanation was that once a woman starts calling a man who’s not a member of her family 오빠, it was very easy to go from there to calling him 아빠 (i.e. husband), so they just wanted to avoid getting romantically involved without meaning to.

    Ironically, I just read a news article recently that a current trend among college-aged women these days is to call older male schoolmates 아빠.

    In a sort of related point, the word 언니 which is used by women to refer to older sister, was originally a term that could be used to describe any older sibling who is the same sex as you are. In other words, a man could call his older brother either 형 or 언니, and both usages would have been correct. I actually remember the word being used that way by boys when I was growing up in the ’70’s. Of course, now it is almost exclusively used by females only.
    11/24/09 @ 23:07

    Comment from: admin [Member] Email
    SKFK, thanks for such a detailed response!

    Re: 언니–when I was reading THE AQUARIUMS OF PYONGYANG, the main author (a North Korean male) refers to a waitress as 언니. I remember thinking that was odd when I read it at the time. It doesn’t fit your explanation, but of course, language is changing. (And the language differences between North and South Korea, especially.)

    I find it a humorous image to think of some of “my boys” at taekwondo referring to older ones at 언니. Ha! Doesn’t fit my mental schema.
    11/25/09 @ 06:21

    Comment from: SKFK [Visitor]
    Yeah, 언니 is also used to call people working in service industry regardless of age. I’ve seen middle-aged ladies calling much younger hairdressers 언니 at beauty shops, for example. My father used to call young waitresses 언니 too, until he reached a certain age. What I described in my earlier reply was for a more formal meaning of the word, which is only supposed to be used between actual siblings with blood relations.
    11/25/09 @ 17:56

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