Monday, November 20, 2017

Gaijin 外人 - Word Meaning

So you've been called a baka gaijin on the internet and, being the anime connoisseur you are, you know what baka means, but you aren't very sure about what gaijin means? Well, gaijin means "foreigner." You've been called a "stupid foreigner."

Definition

Basically, gaijin 外人 is a derogatory way of saying "foreigner" in Japanese. It's a kinda racist word. It's like saying "immigrants" in American, except not exactly.

Since gaijin means "foreigner" you would think that, if you are American, you can't possibly be called a gaijin by another American, since, you know, you're both Americans! You aren't "foreigners." However, the word gaijin is just sort of a meme used by the non-Japanese anime community to say "you're not Japanese."

Pronunciation

Now that you know gaijin (outside of Japan) is just a fandom joke, you better prepare yourself to mock other people, correctly, by knowing how to pronounce gaijin. Because nothing is more weeb than pointing out at some weeb calling other weebs gaijin and saying: "you are not even pronouncing gaijin right, you baka gaijin!"

How gaijin is pronounced:
  • Guy Djinn.
  • Guy Engine (without the "en")
  • Guy Gym (not exactly, but close enough)

How gaijin is NOT pronounced:
  • Gay Jim
  • Giant Gem
  • Gee Dim

Now, if you're wondering why the fuck is it written gaijin if it's not pronounced Gay Jim, which'd be the closest letters possible, that's because the Hepburn romaji system has a pronunciation close to Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, not to English. As a Brazilian, I can guarantee you gaijin sounds exactly like exactly what it's written... in Brazilian Portuguese pronunciation.

Kanji

The kanji of gaijin are 外 and 人, meaning "outside" and "person" respectively. So, if we were to go by the literal meaning, then gaijin means "outsider." But in practice it means someone who's foreigner. You don't use gaijin to point at someone who's outside your house or comes from outside your village.

Other words with the same kanji (note they have kun'yomi readings):
  • soto
    Outside.
  • hito
    Person.
  • sono no hito 外の人
    Person outside.
  • hoka no hito 外の人
    People from other places.

Gaikokujin 外国人

Besides gaijin, there's another word, gaikokujin 外国人, which also means "foreigner" in Japanese.

Basically, while gaijin means literally "person of outside," the word gaikokujin means "person from outside country." That is, a "person," hito 人, of a "foreign country," gaikoku 外国.

gaijin / gaikokujin Japanese sample from manga Giant Killing

外人 vs. 外国人

Now the question is: what's the difference between gaijin and gaikokujin? What's the difference between 外人 and 外国人? Do these two words really mean exactly the same thing?

Yes and no.

It's true that both words mean "foreigner," and that they're almost interchangeable, however, there's a difference in nuance.

The word gaikokujin is a normal term. The word gaijin may be considered an offensive term. So if you want to actually say "foreigner" in Japanese, you'd want to say gaikokujin, not gaijin.

Why is Gaijin Offensive?

As for why the word gaijin is offensive while gaikokujin is not, it's that (according to ainori_dewi-san's answer to なぜ「外人」は差別用語なのですか?), the word gaijin is often used with negative connotations, therefore it's a negative word, while gaikokujin would be neutral.

The reason for this is kind of obvious. Look at this:
  • nihonjin 日本人
    Japanese person.
  • chuugokujin 中国人
    Chinese person.
  • kankokujin 韓国人
    South Korean person.
  • chousenjin 朝鮮人
    North Korean person.
  • taiwanjin 台湾人
    Taiwanese person.
  • gaijin 外人
    The rest of the world. The outsiders (of Asia)

In other words, gaijin was sort of a racist slur used to pretty much anyone that wasn't Asian. Or at least that was what it was, until people forgot about it.

Nowadays gaijin is used like gaikokujin. People don't really attribute it to racism, everybody just sorta knows it's a bad word. TV and newspapers avoid using gaijin, preferring the Politically Correct gaikokujin instead. In a way, saying gaijin in Japanese is like saying "japs" in English.

Even the Yakuza knows to use gaikokujin instead.
"You got your salaryman in there, the delinquent school girl and her sugar daddy, Chinese people, and even those Nigerian touts. What's with all the fucking gaijin (foreigners) in the area anyway? It used to be just Japanese, Koreans and Chinese."

"M: Don't say gaijin. Say Gaikokujin. It's more polite. Jake's a gaijin."

"S: Yeah, I forget sometimes. What's with all the fucking gaikokujin in Kabukicho anyway?"
The actual Yakuza, reviewing a game about the Yakuza.

Historically

Another minor thing is that, long, long, long ago, gaijin 外人, at the time pronounced guwaijin, didn't mean someone from a foreign country, but really an outsider or someone who had nothing to do with something, exactly as the kanji would imply. Note, however, that this isn't he current usage of the word. It's just a usage it once had.

So that's the difference between gaijin and gaikokujin, and what gaijin means.

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