Essential Korean Titles: Samchon (삼촌) Takes Care of Business
Not sure why some men are called samchon instead of ajeossi in Korea?
Find out what it means and how to use it below!
We also cover:
- pros and cons of having samchon
- how to keep a good relationship with samchon
- and more
Let’s get started!
Korean has two common ways of referring to biological aunts and uncles:
- Emo (이모)
- Samchon (삼촌)
You can use these to address people on the street too.
For example, you may call a male who looks at least 20 years older than you, “samchon” in some situations, even though you’re not related.
Having a samchon can be a big help in Korea. Find out why below!
What does samchon mean in Korean?
Samchon (삼촌) means “uncle”, and is used by everyone. Here are other situations where the word is used:
Samchon is a biological uncle who can be either on your father’s or mother’s side.
Your mom’s brother is technically “외삼촌 (oe-sam-chon)”, but most cases “oe” is omitted unless you need to specify the relationship.
In Korea, older generations were pressured to keep having kids until they birthed a son due to “preference for sons (남아선호사상)”. So, there are many cases where we have very young oesamchon with multiple older sisters.
For example, my mom is the firstborn, and I have 4 emo followed by the youngest oesamchon who’s only 9 years older than me.
That’s a lot of dedication!
Oesamchon can be married or unmarried, whereas samchon is usually referred to as an unmarried uncle.
Once samchon (father’s side) gets married, Koreans call him “큰아버지 (keun-a-beo-ji) or 큰아빠 (keun-appa)”, which means “big dad” when he’s an older brother of your dad.
Or, he’ll be “작은아버지 (jag-eun-a-beo-ji) or 작은아빠 (jag-eun-appa)”, which means “little dad” when he’s a younger brother of your dad.
Father’s friends or his close dongsaeng are sometimes called samchon by young children, just like calling them “uncle” in English.
However, since samchon is a title for an ‘unmarried’ brother, Koreans rarely call their dad’s friends samchon. Once we grow up, we start calling them “ajeossi” (but indirectly, to avoid hurting their feelings).
You can also address a middle-aged man in a friendly way by calling him samchon.
If you want to avoid offending an older man, call him “samchon” instead of “ajeossi”. You might get better results!
K-pop girl groups have “samchon fans”, who are in their early 30s and far above.
Because of this image of ‘samchon = man in his early 30s’, more people call a youngish stranger, samchon.
For example, when a young man helps a kid, the mom will tell the kid, “Say thank you to samchon”.
- In the Seoul dialect, “samchoon (삼춘)”, has a wider range that refers to not only distant relatives, but also seniors in the neighborhood. It also sounds cute and affectionate.
- Korean men who are used to being called “oppa“, get a bit depressed when they start being called “samchon”. They think, ‘Am I already that old?’, but they get used to it, and eventually turn into ajeossi.
How to use samchon in a polite way?
Korean doesn’t use second person pronouns like “you” politely among acquaintances. The easiest way to address someone daily is with kinship terms like samchon.
There are usually two levels of kinship terms, plain and honorific. In most cases the honorific form can be made by adding “-nim” to the end.
You may address your uncle and men in that age group as samchon. Adding “-nim” in this case sounds strange.
What are the pros and cons of samchon?
Pros: Samchon give you gifts, advice and support, but usually not as much as emo.
Cons: Samchon tend to become kkondae (꼰대) and nag a little once they get old.
What does samchon do for you?
For biological nieces and nephews:
Samchon are great for getting things done. They’ll help you with all that tedious admin stuff down at the dongsamooso (government office). Samchon are also great for career and life advice, both solicited and unsolicited.
They’ll pay for meals and give you a lot of spending money (용돈 or yongdon), especially on holidays.
Best of all, they’ll fill in the knowledge gaps about being a man your father may miss.
For friend’s children:
Having a dad’s friend as samchon is pretty nice when you grow up in South Korea. Samchon buys you nice toys or dolls and gives you pocket money.
What do you do for samchon?
Samchon are easy to please. Listen to their advice and show them respect. You don’t need to go into too much detail about your problems. They don’t want that. Keep it light and breezy while enjoying their company.
What’s the difference between Samchon and Oesamchon?
Both Samchon and Oesamchon mean “uncle” in Korean, but Samchon is dad’s brother until he gets married and Oesamchon is mom’s brother.
What’s the acceptable age gap for calling an older male “Samchon”?
About 20 years is a good rule to follow. For less than 20-year age differences, you can call them “hyung” when you’re a guy. If a man looks older than his age, he may be referred to as samchon even in his 20s by middle or high school students. You’ll know if you get this wrong.
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