A Betrayal of (Our) Words; or, Our Monstrous Penguinlike Love Child: A Real Colloquium by Bitmap and 2DT, on the Subject of Otaku Terminology, Part Two

Continued from Part One.


I can’t imagine how, but it’s working again! After a bit of messing around, that is. Hopefully I’m not discovered this time. That being said, it looks like this conversation ends with this, so enjoy the conclusion!

<From: Bitmap>
<To: 2DT>
<Subject: The Sales God Only Knows>

Hey, if there was anything the Mayoi Neko Overrun anime was not, it’s “by the numbers,” but I do get what you’re saying. (I also had no idea how well Mayoi Neko sold, but apparently it did all right for itself compared to other shows that season!)

I like the idea that the market drives even the proliferation of jargon, but we’re still left with the question, then, of what exactly sells to otaku. Talk about appealing to the lowest common denominator all you want, but for every mindless show that sells well, there are more that fail to measure up to the dreaded “Manabi line.”

One way to look at it is by examining the longevity of the term tsundere. The temptation is to say that it’s a feedback loop: the word is so popular because the character archetype shows up so often in anime (often as self-parodies), and there are a lot of tsundere in anime because it’s such a popular concept, and so forth.

But just what is a tsundere? Well, that shouldn’t be too hard, seeing as how they are practically codified at this point: we recognize a tsundere by her―for they are, despite what Wikipedia will tell you, almost exclusively female―twintails, short stature, small bust size, shimapan, distinctive style of speech (b-baka), or even voice actress (Miss Rie Kugimiya). And so on.

What I want to argue here, though, is that there is no one common factor that all tsundere characters share that define them as such; many characters considered as such don’t even show a dere side! Even the idea that a tsundere is always dishonest about her feelings doesn’t really hold up as a universal truth. In other words, the tsundere as a decentralized concept. Everybody has their own concept of exactly what tsundere is in their own minds.

And it’s this difference in thought that invites heated discussion and the like. I think you can apply the same idea to other terms like moe, owacon, and even otaku. So maybe the reason some words die out is that they lack this broad applicability? That would make them poor topics for good conversation, and subsequently, they fail to become a part of the general otaku vocabulary.

God, my e-mails are always too long. Must work on that; for now, though, I think this is a good place to ask for input. Looking forward to your reply!

surprised the sun is still up

<From: 2DT>
<To: Bitmap>
<Subject: I-It’s not like I want to be defined!>

Oh dear. I have to admit that I see what you’re saying, but I’m not sure how I feel about it. Let me explain by example.

Osharé otaku: It’s so prosaically defined, so specific a term (i.e. “an otaku who dresses fashionably”) that it brooks no argument, and hence possesses no potential for discussion. It’s hardly even distinguishable as jargon. Which makes sense, in your view, because a term that just describes one thing very well doesn’t have what it takes to become more.

On the other hand, we have RJ or real-juu, which has gained more currency in English recently (thanks to authors like Akirascuro). Real-juu is superficially simple, describing someone who is “skilled at real life.” But what does that mean, exactly — is real-juu dressing well, getting lots of dates, having friends and places to hang out at on a Friday night? In truth, it’s all of these things and more. You could argue about who’s real-juu all the livelong day, which is perhaps why it’s already on the path to long-term survival.

So, what? That’s our conclusion? To rise into the rarefied air of cultural power, a term must be built to continually escape definition? That’s madness! But… when I really sit and think about it, maybe that’s just the thing. It certainly fits the words that do survive.

The passion, the neverending chase for an ideal: Otaku do it in all things, even in the words they use. That’s probably too rosy a picture, but I’ll take it.

In need of a stiff drink.

<From: Bitmap>
<To: 2DT>
<Subject: Ah Eh I Oh Uguu>

Hmm, I can’t shake the feeling that we’re painting a somewhat incomplete picture here…

That aside, we should probably touch a bit more directly on the translingual aspect of this topic before we close up. That is to say, there are Japanese otaku and there are English-speaking fans of… Japanese “modern visual culture,” as it were, and the overlap in terminology is not as high as perhaps some people make it out to be.

There are instances in which English speakers have coined English equivalents for Japanese terms (otoko-no-ko → trap), ones in which Japanese terms have taken on a different nuance in English parlance (hentai), and everything in-between (is weeaboo just an English way to express the Japanese idea of nihon-kabure, or is nihon-kabure just the closest thing Japanese has to expressing an originally English concept?). And it can seriously get out of hand, to the point where youjo is fan-translated as “loli.” Christ, I swear, the fandom is like some kind of retarded Ouroboros…

…Went a bit off-topic there. Anyway, the question I wanted to ask is this: is there a reason why some terms, already established in the Japanese otaku vernacular, don’t click with their English-speaking brethren, while others do? Or is it just dumb luck?

feeling pretty moon foreigner right about now

<From: 2DT>
<To: Bitmap>
<Subject: We’ve reached the absolute zone>

Oh my. Do we dare open that box?

In the West, the words we adopted first tend to stick. Even when we KNOW the Japanese terms and popularize them, they end up coexisting with what we’ve already adopted, like doujinshi and eromanga coexisting with hentai. And, in the case of “trap,” not only did we reject josou and otoko-no-ko as common terms, but we also developed our own unique spin-off jargon (What, after all, is a “reverse trap”?).

Bitmap, think about it– we’ve even given new life to terms once dead. Just look at what happened to shounen-ai and yaoi: once defunct sub-sub-cultural jargon, now ubiquitous in the West. What a phenomenal thing! Even working together, can you and I hope to tackle the hows and whys, on both sides of the world?

No, I think this is where we must end: not with a solemn and sad penguin graveyard like I initially thought, but something grander and less precise, like uncovering a single bone in a fossil dig and discovering that it’s merely the tip of a much, much larger creature. That’s our picture of a thousand words, and it’s incomplete… but I think that’s quite all right. We’ve made it together. Let’s see what happens now.

Thank you, my dear friend. Have a wonderful night.

On a clear moonlit evening, ready to rest.

<From: Bitmap>
<To: 2DT>
<Subject: To Chant Love in Her Arms>

No, I should be thanking you for the opportunity to have a stimulating conversation like this. I have to say, though, it’s quite an image we’ve conjured: formless ideas kept alive by the desire to define… well, in the end, what but ourselves? Ideas live on because we will them to in our stead, as a reminder that we existed. Or so I’d like to believe, anyway.

With that, a good night to you, 2DT.

dreaming of yoghurt factories


Filed under Colloquia, Editorials, Guest Writer, Meta, Meta, Modern Visual Culture

20 responses to “A Betrayal of (Our) Words; or, Our Monstrous Penguinlike Love Child: A Real Colloquium by Bitmap and 2DT, on the Subject of Otaku Terminology, Part Two

  1. Pingback: A Betrayal of (Our) Words; or, Our Monstrous Penguinlike Love Child: A Real Colloquium by Bitmap and 2DT, on the Subject of Otaku Terminology, Part One | The Untold Story of Altair & Vega

  2. *slow measured clapping*

    Fantastic. Absolutely amazing. An absolute bravura of a colloquium.

    Its only flaw is that it ended, for surely you have only scratched the surface of this subject.

    • 2DT

      Oh, you’re really too kind. :)

      It’s somewhat my fault, I admit– I pounced on the chance to do this with Bitmap without quite realizing that we were trying to bite off a very big chunk of subculture. But I don’t regret it for a moment.

      Thanks for reading!

  3. Interesting stuff, glad we got to be privy to this dialogue. I might put in my own two cents later when I have a little more time.

  4. This is a great collo. It would be even great if you picked up on the drift that the world LOLI has been subjected too.

  5. tiboreau

    I loved the display of your personalities &, in particular, the use of dialogue in colloquium.

    I have nothing to add except the hope that I will see you two collaborate again one day.

    Much Thanks you two!

  6. What are words, etc.
    The question you’re essentially asking here is “why do WE talk the way we talk?” but it basically feeds into the question of “why does ANYBODY talk the way they talk?”
    When dealing with this subject, a good place to start is with what kind of words we’re working with here. I’m proud of you both for making it through the entire thing without using the frequently over-applied word “slang,” because what we’re talking about here is jargon. Jargon is a set of words common to a group that is used to refer to things that the language of the wider public doesn’t have the vocabulary to describe. The relationship between jargon and the rest of the language is pretty fluid and words move from one to the other based on convenience. Take, for example, just about every computer term – saying that something has a bug in it (ostensibly) originated in a computer malfunction caused by a literal insect, leading to programmer jargon and eventually bleeding out into the larger world due to applicability.
    Applicability is really the key feature of any word that survives in a language. Wikipedia quotes a study that says the average vocabulary of a college educated adult is about 8000 words, which is a very small subset of, say, the OED’s 600,000 entries. The implication is that a fairly well-educated adult only knows about 1% of their native language and yet everyone seems to communicate just fine. Clearly some words have to be more common than others and what pulls those words to the surface is how useful they are.
    SO. New words. Where do they come from anyway? There’s a lot of different mechanisms which form new words, most of which don’t bring much interest to the subject at hand, so I’ll be incomplete here. The important point is that individual languages have their own preferences as to which mechanism they use. Despite what you might casually suppose, completely making up new words is the least common method that new vocabulary is introduced. Weeabo is actually a rare stable exception to the trend. There’s also the closely related process of genericization, where product names become the generalized word for the product or related process, e.g. xerox (noun and verb), google (as a verb), popsicles, heroin, esclator, and kerosene. Far more popular are methods like compounding, a favorite method of Germanic languages, English included, and German most famously. Any missing word can be created by smashing together any other pair (or more) of previously existing words to function as a rough sum of its parts. A fine German example is Glühbirne, lit. “glowing pear,” to mean lightbulb, itself a compound word (or phrase, if you ascribe to Firefox’s spellchecker’s belief that it’s two words, the distinction really isn’t important). It needn’t be whole words in a compound either; easy examples include “blog” and the Japanese パソコン a compound of PERSOnal COMputer, truncated in a way common to loanwords into Japanese. Which leads into the most important category for otaku jargon: borrowing.
    Japanese and English both love loanwords. Japanese is about 60% Chinese loanwords, particularly in technical and scientific vocabulary. Similarly, English vocabulary is roughly 60% romance language words split fairly evenly between technical Latinate terms and the more common French words borrowed during and since the Norman conquest. Of the remainder, about a quarter is actually native Germanic words with the balance made up of borrowings from everything else you could possibly imagine. Cartoon is an Italian word by way of French, guitar the Spanish and French realization of the ancient Greek word κιθάρα of all things. Cummerbund is Persian, sugar was borrowed into Latin from Arabic, and zombie is from the Congo. What most of these things have in common is the need to describe something that exists in one place but not in another. Loanwords are typically nouns, and otaku jargon is no exception.
    Which brings us finally to the actual questions: why are some words more successful than others, what’s up with the English-original words, and what do all these words mean anyway? I would say the blame for the success of “trap” lies firmly in the hand-fins of Admiral Akbar; no loanword could stand up to firepower of that magnitude. Most of the other words fill some kind of semantic gap with something easy to say; yaoi is much faster to type than “gay porn comics” and also much less stigmatized because lol heteronormative society etc. Tsundere is a three syllable (but four mora) word that stands in for easily a paragraph of explanation and has an ever-increasing set of related associations (zettai ryouiki, kugumiya disease, it’s not like I’m writing this wall of text for you or anything, b-baka). And moe is jargon in /both/ languages to describe a set of concepts that previously were unarticulated and have yet to settle into a definition you could put in a dictionary. And the definitions of all these words are by no means settled, though that is a feature of a living language generally. Take “anime.” What does that even mean? Is Kaiba anime? What about Avatar? What the hell do we do with something like La Maison en Petits Cubes? Is that an anime? What about Miraculous, a.k.a. Ladybug? We have this sense of what we intend words to mean, but grey areas lurk everywhere and much internet rage has been spent on what does and doesn’t fall into a category. God help you if you use yuri and shoujo-ai interchangeably in certain settings. I think 2DT hit the reasoning behind why we use particular words on the head though – the early word gets to worm its way into our collective consciousness. But it doesn’t have to stay. Eromanga (whee, Greek and Japanese) is a useful word because hentai doesn’t distinguish by media, while doujinshi doesn’t necessarily mean porn as my folder of almost-all-safe-for-work Touhou doujins can attest. And the combination process continues; erodoujin is an extremely useful word because “independently produced porn comic” is awfully unwieldy. These broader categories will spawn words with narrower definitions as people talk about them in more detail, and as long as people are still talking about them these words should remain viable.

    • 2DT

      I read all of this, and I’m simply blown away. These are probably the first principles we sorely needed!

    • dm00

      I think the most essential word in your response is “jargon”. Words are coined to describe new concepts (to separate them from the soup of closely-related concepts, to highlight differences and distinctions visible only to those who care a great deal). In the case of anime fandom, the concepts are often imported through the distorting mirror of our own preconceptions.

      But which ones live and which ones die? Which ones take on a life of their own, almost unrelated to the native-language use of the adopted term? This is, I think, a matter of familiarity and “naturalness” in the receiver’s ear and eye (otoko-no-ko, I think, is held up from widespread adoption among English speakers by consisting of syllables too easily confused (okotonoto, ototokono, okononono… (“I can spell banananana, but I just don’t know when to stop”)). Meanwhile, tsundere, hentai, yandere are distinct enough (and useful enough) to be picked up (and recognized) by the casual hanger-on at the periphery of the jargonsphere.

      As you note “anime” (and “manga”!) are weird terms in their own right. In the West we’ve adopted them to variously denote origin (or, controversially, style). But, as “the culture” (the fan culture) gains more distinctions, they’ve created sub-terms (manhua, manwa) that must truly puzzle the casual browser wandering into the wrong aisle in a comics-shop.

      • dm00

        (Sigh, always with the afterthoughts.) It’s Darwinian, ecological. What is the shape of the fitness-map? “Trap” is very good at filling its niche, even though it’s a metaphor with a derivation that requires as much explanation as tsundere. Or does it? It’s a joke, and a term linked to a joke has more memetic hooks to help it take root.

  7. These posts make me very, very sad. Why must you remind me of what an amazing writer 2DT is?!

    • redball

      These posts make me very, very happy. While I agree that 2DT is an amazing writer there is much to celebrate here. First, we’re getting a little more 2DT. Second, we are able to see Bitmap hold his own with 2DT which reminds us that our community is not bereft of great writing. Third, this is a great reminder that 2DT hasn’t left our community, even if his blog has ended; he’s still doing his thing and we’re lucky for his participation. Finally, it’s just really interesting.

      • 2DT

        Bitmap is his own person, and a true intellectual light. It was a pleasure to work with him.

        And you’re right; I’m hardly gone, gentlemen. :)

  8. the_patches

    I wonder what you all think about sonority. I mean, it’s hinted at in the idea that “erodoujin” is more efficient than “independently produced porn comic”, but I’d love to see a morphologist tackle this idea with an eye towards, “this word sounds good, which is why it sticks”.

  9. dm00

    This is, by far, the best entry in the “Horizon on tits” project yet. But how did you get ahold of episode 12 already?

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