I’ve never had much first hand contact with the term “weeaboo”. I learned it from an anime loving friend who used it more like a term of endearment. Something like, let’s hang out this weekend and do some weeaboo stuff… except it was another word starting with “s”. Super sweet kid but a total potty mouth. Like me…
Anyways, that sort of context is the only way I had ever heard the expression weeaboo used. The more common deragatory term for anime fans, as far as I was concerned, was Otaku. And even that had been rather thoroughly sanatized and reappropriated. Weeaboo sounded like such a cute little fan name. Like what I imagine a baby red panda sounds like sneezing. Imagine my surprise when I found out it was meant to be an insult. A fairly mean one at that.
I’ll skip the more *colourful* descriptions urban dictionary has and just go for what seems to be the more popular one:
A person who retains an unhealthy obsession with Japan and Japanese culture, typically ignoring or even shunning their own racial and cultural identity. Many weeaboos talk in butchered Japanese with the 8 or so words they know (i.e. kawaii, desu, ni chan). While weeaboos claim to love and support Japanese culture, counter intuitively, they tend to stereotype Japanese culture by how it appears in their favorite anime, which can be safely assumed to be offensive to the Japanese.
The first time I cam acroos an actual definition, “Huh”, I thought to myself and went on with my life. I didn’t bother me to be called a weeaboo, and it still doesn’t. It just sounds so adorable!
I had almost forgotten about the term again when I started seeing these odd variations pop up. Koreaboo and Asiaboo. I haven’t seen these much yet. They may never become a thing. But so far they are clearly meant as insults. At least from what I’ve seen they were aimed at that small fraction of Kpop fans that showed a love or interest for the greater culture and allegedly deluded themselves that they are part of it despite, well, not being Korean. I’m cleaning it up again.
It’s a fairly complex question that examines the lines between admiration and cultural appropriation. The point at which fandom may fall into something unhealthy. The idea that positive stereotypes are still racist and the demeaning nature of fetishizing an entire nation. There’s a lot of interesting debates to be had. I’m not going to have them though. Something completely different and infinitely less important caught my attention…
Why is it Koreaboo when it wasn’t Japanboo or Animeboo? And how did this supremely cute word become an insult anyways? If I name a child weeaboo, will it get taken away by child protection services. It probably should…
And because rabbit holes are way more fun with company, I figured we could find out together.
My hunt for the origins of the term ended up in a place that comes up a lot whenever I look into anime fandom expressions, namely the infamous 4 chan.
But first let’s take a step back. I often call myself a Japanophile. I’m interested in the culture, history, mythology and food of the nation as well as their entertainment. I’m actually just as interested in Scandinavian countries but that comes up considerably less often on this blog. Turns out I’m hardly unique in that regard as there is a noted and documented history of European fascination with Japanese history which fell into disrepute with the advent of both worlds wars.
However, it’s only recently, since the turn of the century about, that Japanese culture started to have an impact on the general population with the rise of anime and sushi on the international market. Once again, interest in the nation spiked and in the internet age, so did the tendency to make fun of this interest…
An early predecessor of the term weeaboo may be “wapanese”. This is not some mildly racist simulation of mispronunciation as I first thought but in fact a portmanteau for either “white Japanese” or “wannabe Japanese”. Apparently it was meant as deragatory. I don’t know if any of you ever heard the slang “egg” used in that way. I remember it as meaning someone who’s “white on the outside but yellow on the inside”. Yeah that was also an insult though it wasn’t specific to Japanese interest. No one else remembers that insult and I’m starting to think I my have dreamed it.
In any case the first actual use of the word “weeaboo” seems to come from the newspaper comic strip The Perry Bible Fellowship and had nothing to do with either Japan or anime. It was simply a nonesense word that generally meant something meant something useless or unpleasant. Apparently there were some fans of PBF on 4-chan because they decided to use that term to replace wapanese for some reason. My best guess is because they really liked the sound of it just like I do. This is no accident by the way. A lot of the humour in the Perry Bubble Fellowship actually came from mixing west innocent imagery and mise en scene with unexpectedly morbid outcomes. It’s the type of comic that would create an incredibly cute sounding word for something grim.
In any case, when 4-chan got a hold of it they started using it fairly aggressively and expansively until it sort of stuck. For better or for worse, they have had a lasting influence on our community.
Nowadays it’s getting pretty difficult to sustain ridiculing people because they have an interest in a culture different from their own. The global village makes those distinctions less relevant by the day and even the most vicious internet troll has a hard time making those types of insults stick. So the term has been refined for the times. No longer is it aimed at someone who has an interest in Japan but more specifically at those who have an interest in anime as a smaller and more isolated group is an easier target.
And this said, as anime becomes more and more mainstream, the term is yet again refined with some saying that it really only applies to fans that in fact ignorant about the culture they claim to admire and as such come off as “annoying” or unintentionally insulting. Maybe the definition will get refined yet again in time.
Personally I hope we manage to rehabilitate the word completely. It would be a shame to see it disappear altogether. And it’s just so darn fun to say. Do you have any thoughts on the word weeaboo?