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Cool word of the month, August 2005

外国人 [Japanese gaikokujin, Chinese wai4 guo2 ren2] (noun) - "foreigner" (lit. "outside country person")

Note: A common misconception is that 外人 (gaijin, outsider) is a contraction of gaikokujin. Because of mixed perceptions of the word gaijin, it is a common target in Japan of kotobagari ("word hunting"), the censorship of terms considered to be politically incorrect.

Previous months' cool words:

July, 2005: tawadu (Arabic, noun) - humility
June, 2005: balpre (Lojban, noun) - hero
May, 2005: brill (English, adjective; slang, British) - brilliant, cool
April, 2005: ܟܐܦܐ [kepa, transliterated kephas] (Aramaic, noun) - great rock
March, 2005: mashin (Farsi, noun) - automobile
February, 2005: perkele (Finnish, noun) - devil (also an expletive)
January, 2005: kinu (Japanese, noun) - silk
December, 2004: krung (Thai, noun) - city, cf. krung thep (city of angels, old name of Bangkok)
November, 2004: tane (Archnin, noun) - blood (see tanelos)
October, 2004: izulu (Zulu, noun) - interplanetary space
September, 2004: phensem (Tibetan, noun) - an beneficent attitude towards others
August, 2004: si2 pu3 (Chinese, noun) - recipe (literally, "meal score")
July, 2004: entspannung (German, noun) - relaxation
June, 2004: anapauesthai (Koine Greek, verb) - to stand still
May, 2004: tvære (Norwegian, verb) - to stretch, especially a conversation or a farewell (definition provided by tamf)
April, 2004: ber-engro (Romany, noun) - lit. "ship's master", a mariner
March, 2004: calad (Sindarin, noun, "light")
February, 2004: su (Chinese, adjective/noun) - 1. flaky; 2. a baked good with a crisp or flaky consistency, such as a cookie
January, 2004: pizdarija (Croatian, noun; vulgar) - something messed-up, feeble, or ridiculous (definition provided by jereeza)
December, 2003: basherte (Hebrew, noun) - "apportioned one" (implication of predestined/ordained mate; courtesy of yahvah)
November, 2003: panmictic (English, adjective, "exhibiting random mating within a breeding population")
October, 2003: kreteno (Esperanto, slang noun, "idiot")
September, 2003: kawai (Japanese, adjective, "cute")
August, 2003: ser (Spanish, intransitive verb, "to be")
July, 2003: cordillera (Spanish, noun, "principal mountain system of a continent")
June, 2003: kallüsáráyam (Tamil, noun, "illicit liquor")
May, 2003: hoh (Singlish, particle, "connective expression of expected agreement")
April, 2003: tmesis (English, noun, "separation of the parts of a compound word for humorous effect")
March, 2003: nerazreshimost (Russian, noun, "undecidability")



( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 30th, 2005 05:54 pm (UTC)
I know a gril who was called that by a 10 year old, while on her vacations in Japan. The little boy's family almost died of shame :p
Aug. 30th, 2005 05:54 pm (UTC)
gril == girl

Aug. 30th, 2005 06:18 pm (UTC)
"Gril"! I'm starting to influence yew!

Aug. 30th, 2005 06:53 pm (UTC)
Why is it a misconception? The two words mean almost exactly the same thing, with difference that the first one means, if my Jap is not all rusty, "someone from a different country", while the second simply "someone from elsewhere" ? Or am I wrong?
Aug. 30th, 2005 07:53 pm (UTC)
gaijin vs. gaikokujin
First, to answer your question: I said it's a misconception that one is a contraction of the other.

guo/koku means "nation", so the difference is equivalent to that between foreign national, which is more specific and thus milder in connotation than outsider.

As an ABC, my impression is that this is more the case in Western perception than traditional East Asian, but as de_profundiis noted above, gaijin is considered gauche in polite Japanese society now for much the same reasons. Not knowing Japanese, I can't say for sure, but if it's anything like the difference between waiguoren (a neutral term) and wairen (a term with insular, prejudicial connotations) in Chinese, then it's an important distinction. If I called you a waiguoren, either as a Chinese person or as an American, there'd be no insult; it's what you are to me, either way.

Aug. 30th, 2005 08:44 pm (UTC)
Re: gaijin vs. gaikokujin
guo/koku means "nation", so the difference is equivalent to that between foreign national, which is more specific and thus milder in connotation than outsider.

The Hebrew word ger is pretty much the same as foreign national, but it's translated as stranger in the Torah. Gerim are converts. That's what Ruth was. Off the top of my head I know it appears in Numbers 15. I don't know that there is a word for outsider, but there may be.
Aug. 30th, 2005 10:33 pm (UTC)

BTW, we have selected 12 papers for the Statistical Machine Translation (comptranslation reading group this fall. I'll post the schedule shortly.

Aug. 31st, 2005 05:05 am (UTC)
Re: gaijin vs. gaikokujin
Think of the words this way...

Gaijin vs Gaikokujin

Juggling Bearded-Lady vs. Artistic Performer
Freakishly Giant Cracker-Boy vs. Tall, Slender Caucasian Male
Stripper vs. Exotic Dancer
Person that cleans s#%$ up vs. Sanitary Specialist

So yes, there is some P.C. coating on the right-hand terms. Deep down we all know they (can) mean the same thing. The point is, we would never use the left-hand terms for people that either A) We care about, or B) We care about what they think of us.

This goes for Japanese people using these terms as well. They might talk amongst themselves using slightly derogitory terms to describe a person that they all know. But, out of respect for you as a foreigner, most Japanese people worth getting to know will never call or refer to you as a 'gaijin' in your presence.

If, however, you are good enough friends to be drinking buddies with them - all bets are off. Taking offense at things when all parties are even mildly intoxicated is illegal in Japanese Izakayas, so please take whatever you hear in good stride. Everyone else will be tolerating your drunken Japanese in return.

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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