The Origins of Weeaboo

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…

Haganai potato

whoa…too far

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!

anime platelets

please let me know if you find the original! 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.

4 chan as anime

cannot vouch for the accuracy

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.

PBF071-Weeaboo

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?

Kitty Rini

how about the word chuuni

Irina

I'm much nicer than I seem, we should be friends!

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23 Responses

  1. Opalescent says:

    Awesome look at the origin of the term!! I also use it in day-to-day life more as a term of endearment, sometimes to the point of forgetting its original meaning

  2. ManInBlack says:

    First time I’ve ever heard this silly term…. :\

  3. Krystallina says:

    I always heard it (and still here it) as an insult. To me, unlike otaku or nerd, it hasn’t been reclaimed as a fun badge of honor.

  4. Fred says:

    Weaboo is too cute to remain an insult for long.

    We all bleed red. Everything else is window-dressing.

  5. SparkNorkx says:

    As an Asian myself (and who traveled a lot – Japan, Philippines, Singapore, etc,), for some reason, I still can’t fully comprehend “weeaboo / weeb” or even use it. I guess it’s truly an exclusive negative word for living under a rock non-Asian anime fans?

  6. Dawnstorm says:

    I think I heared somewhere that 4-chan actually put “wapanese” on the index and had the board-software auto-replace the term with “weeaboo”. It’s an object lesson in why such censorship doesn’t work (if true).

    As for “koreaboo” etc. That’s how language often works. You think somethings a compound of the pattern [flavour]-[coremeaning]. Apparently: [weea]-[boo] (or [wee]-[a]-[boo]). The same thing happened with “hamburger”, where we now have lots of burgers (even though the oringal name’s from the town of Hamburg, and there’s no ham in a hamburger).

    I have no particular feelings about the word. Scandinavia? How about “scannyboo”?

  7. I love that the original word is literally just a pointless insult, much like weeaboo. Westaboos are my favorite kind of boo, because most of my favorite shounen mangaka are huge westaboos (i.e. Araki and Horikoshi)

  8. Anonymous says:

    The irony of these Asiaboos like Weeaboos and Korreaboos is that they are actually super xenophobic and they based their perceptions of Japan or Korea from the stuff they watch and they lose the ability to see the difference between reality and fiction. And that things like Japan and Korea is better than everything else is totally not true as all parts of the world is filled all kinds of crap. (Japan for example Karoshi,Poor working conditions,birth decline and one of the highest suicide rates in the world.)
    I truly hate it when they act Asian-like when they are most certainly not and go as far as to take plastic surgery to look more Asian and would like to have an Asian partner only because of the fact they Asian and nothing else objectifying them.
    Also speaking as a fictional character too and learning Japanese from subs or Korean is actually considered to be really annoying to Asians as thats not the way to speak the language and i can attest to that as i am currently learning online about speaking Japanese.
    The aspects of Japanese culture are exaggerated for entertainment purposes with some basis of reality in it.
    I’ve been an otaku since i was in my early years of school and they really give the anime community a really bad name overshadowing the many logical and reasonable anime fans in the community. And education is one way to cure a Asiaboo so they can later realize how much of an idiot they were ironically being but don’t expect them to take.
    Its totally cool to be genuinely interested in learning about Asian culture as long as you respect others interests and personal beliefs and being willing to learn from what you have seen.
    Just don’t go to Japan and expect it to be like a slice of life anime and prepare yourself to conqueror any hidden biases you may have.
    -K(rogueotakugamer)

    • Anonymous says:

      Reverse weeaboos are also a thing in Asia where Asians like to act like the west is better than anything else and even act “Western: as well too. In fact any culture obsession is not healthy be it European or Asian.

      • Irina says:

        I didn’t comment on it before but I’m not entirely sure how one acts asian or western… I’m an eternal immigrant with little social identity but it seems to me that there isn’t that much of a marked behavioral difference other than cultural biases and of course reginal demands like language and diet…

    • Irina says:

      Im a bit more live and let live. I really can’t tell anyone what surgeries they should have. But I agree that fetischizing any culture and beliving in the superiority of a culture be it your own or another is short sighted and has been historically dangerous. I still like the sound of the word.

    • Anonymous says:

      I’m a live and let live person myself too if it isn’t hurting anybody or breaking any laws then do whatever it is you like and happy with it.
      I think overall its important to be able to fully embrace who you are instead of trying to be something you are not. And that no obsession is a good obsession.
      Nice article you’ve written.

  9. For me I first learned of the term “weeaboo” from a Filthy Frank video. I’ve since embraced the weeb moniker and even use it to describe myself ironically

  10. Pete Davison says:

    I think “weeaboo” — or more accurately its contraction “weeb” — has been mostly reclaimed these days. I don’t tend to see a lot of people using it in a derogatory manner, which is fine by me; most of the time I tend to see people using it to refer to themselves. Sometimes in a self-deprecating manner, yes, but still generally with affection.

    My first encounter with it was back when I was podcasting with a group of gamers called The Squadron of Shame (after the concept of the “pile of shame” — stuff you’d bought but never played/watched). We looked at an interesting game called Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden, which was a parody of all things Japanese popular media — and particularly Japanese-style role-playing games.

    In that game, whenever you encounter a save point, which resembles some sort of… pump, as I recall, I could never quite work out what it actually was… it gives you a long speech about some sort of media that is clearly important to it. It’s absurd and hilarious; when we talked about the game on the podcast, one participant described this as being like a “weeaboo”. I didn’t really know what he meant at the time, but I get it now.

    Oh, also, I’ve never heard “egg” used like that; only for a trans person who hasn’t realised they’re trans yet!

  11. AK says:

    I used to frequent 4chan, a long time ago. I think weeaboo and weeb as terms carry that slightly negative context because 4chan is full of prople who hate themselves. At least it was back then. These days I would never tell anyone I know off the internet that I used to visit the site. I just don’t feel like explaining all that to them.

    • Irina says:

      You know for all the drama and for me slightly scary stuff that came out of 4-chan, I can’t deny it’s an important part of internet culture. Credit where credit is due

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