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Ajumma (Korean: 아줌마), sometimes spelled ajoomma, is a respectful Korean word for a married, or marriage aged woman. It comes from the Korean word Ajumeoni (Korean: 아주머니).[1] Although it is sometimes translated "aunt", it does not actually refer to a family relationship. There is some indication that the word historically meant "wife of a professor". It is most often used to refer to any middle-aged or older woman since referring to an elder by name without a title in Korea is not socially acceptable.[2] An ajumma is neither a young unmarried woman (agassi) or grandmother (halmoni). Typically she would be a married woman with children, although not necessarily so. On the other hand, the Korean word Samo'nim, was originally interpreted as "wife of mentor" or "wife of superior",[3] describes a married woman of high social status.[4] The Lonely Planet guide to Seoul describes ajumma as a term of respect,[5] but it can be used in a mildly pejorative sense as well.[6][7][8] An ajumma is often a restaurant worker, street vendor, or housewife.[8]

Used in its pejorative sense, ajumma has connotations of pushiness, with ajumma described as hard-working and aggressive people who "push and shove their way through a crowd to find a seat in the bus or subway",[8] "grab you by the arm and try to get you to eat at their place",[9] or "push" friends and relatives to buy insurance.[10]

When used in its pejorative sense ajumma can also have connotations of unfashionableness, with ajumma stereotypically described as wearing baggy pants, mismatched clothing and little makeup,[8] being "pudgy",[11] having unfashionably short hair in an "ajumma perm",[12] and "wearing rubber shoes."[13]

Ajumma have been described as having low status in the Korean job market, and as often being the last hired and first fired.[14] In Looking for a Mr. Kim in Seoul: A Guide to Korean Expressions, the authors warn that calling a young or unmarried woman ajumma will cause offense.[8]

An article in The New York Times describes ajumma as “aunties” and connotes matronly, working-class women known for no-nonsense warmth and authority, and introduced a look at the hilarious daily life of ajumma in South Korea.[15] However, when ajumma is used in the sense of "aunties", it does not refer to a family relationship, and aunts in the family are not called "ajumma" in the Korean language, instead being referred to as "imo" (이모).

Korean feminists believe the low status of ajumma reflects widespread sexism and classism in Korean culture, particularly the idea that a woman's worth can be assessed mainly on the basis of her age, looks and docility.[16]

However, ajumma are Koreans' mothers, who have the nerve to stand up to injustice for their sons and daughters.[17] Despite their modest social status, ajumma are significant contributors to Korea's economy and society.[18]


  1. ^ "아줌마" [Ajumma] (in Korean). The National Institute of the Korean Language. Retrieved 2014-02-19.
  2. ^ Price, Fiona Swee-Lin (2007). Success with Asian names: a practical guide for business and everyday life. London: Nicholas Brealey. p. 90. ISBN 1857883780.
  3. ^ "사모-님" [Samo-nim] (in Korean). The National Institute of the Korean Language. Retrieved 2014-02-19.
  4. ^ "기분 나쁜 "아줌마!" 대신 부드럽게 "아주머니" 해보세요" [Let's just gently say "Ajumeoni" instead of offensive "Ajomma!"].
  5. ^ Robinson, Martin (2006). Seoul (5th ed.). Footscray [etc.]: Lonely Planet. p. 181. ISBN 1740598466.
  6. ^ Mack, Haewon Geebi Baek; illustrated by Lindsay (2010). Dirty Korean: everyday slang from what's up? to f*%# off!. Berkeley, Calif.: Ulysses Press. p. 28. ISBN 1569757798.
  7. ^ Academy of Korean Studies (2002). The Review of Korean Studies. 5 (2): 16.
  8. ^ a b c d e Torchia, Sang-Hun Choe; Christopher (2006). Looking for Mr. Kim in Seoul: a guide to Korean expressions. New York, NY: Infini Press. p. 55. ISBN 1932457038.
  9. ^ Frommer's ShortCuts (2012). Busan, South Korea: Frommer's ShortCuts. Hoboken New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. ISBN 9781118469910.
  10. ^ Hussain, Tariq (2006). Diamond dilemma: shaping Korea for the 21st century ([English ed.]. ed.). S.l.: s.n.] p. 127. ISBN 1430306416.
  11. ^ Hong, Dorothy M. (2003). Tales from a Korean maiden in America. New York: iUniverse, Inc. p. 15. ISBN 059528390X.
  12. ^ Shteyngart, Gary (2010). Super sad true love story: a novel (1st ed.). New York: Random House. p. 143. ISBN 1400066409.
  13. ^ Kathleen McHugh, ed. (2005). South Korean golden age melodrama: gender, genre, and national cinema. Detroit: Wayne State Univ. Press. p. 190. ISBN 0814332536.
  14. ^ Rowan, Bernard (2000). "Urban Continuities, Urban Challenges: Comparing the Ajumma and African-Americans". International Journal of Urban Sciences. 4 (2): 228. doi:10.1080/12265934.2000.9693478.
  15. ^ Kantor, Jodi (February 7, 2014). "A Look at Korea's Culture From the Bathhouse". The New York Times. Archived from the original on September 5, 2015. Retrieved September 16, 2014.
  16. ^ Han'guk Chŏngsin; Munhwa Yŏn'guwŏn (2002). The review of Korean studies. 5 (8): 16.
  17. ^ Han, Jane (May 20, 2014). "MissyUSA flexes "ajumma power"". The Korea Times US. Archived from the original on April 2, 2015. Retrieved September 16, 2014.
  18. ^ Rowan, Bernard (February 19, 2010). "Ajumma — Engine for Korea's Social Progress". The Korea Times. Retrieved May 5, 2015.