If you have ever tried to discuss anime/manga with people who don’t know, care, or want to hear about it, you are likely familiar with today’s word. If you or someone you know obsesses about all things Japanese – even stereotypically behaving Japanese – while not being ethnically Japanese, you are almost certainly familiar with today’s word. Whether you take it as a warning to refrain or wear it as a badge of honour, today’s word, weeaboo, needs and deserves closer examination.
Unlike words from the past, which have their roots in a foreign language and achieved various usages in English over hundreds of years, today’s word is a representation of how the Internet and connectivity overall is changing, influencing, and creating its own sublanguage. Weeaboo is essentially a nonsensical, made-up word that has gained a meaning of a Japanophile, or someone who is non-Japanese but is obsessed with Japanese culture, due to its usage.
Its first known usage is in a webcomic (#61) called The Perry Bible Fellowship by Nicholas Gurewich circa 2005, where, instead of anything specific, the term was simply implied to mean something moderately bad and deserving of corporal punishment. What led to the term’s greater use was the English-language imageboard website 4chan.org. According to the accepted story, by mid-2005, site moderators at the time had grown tired of the overuse of the term wapanese (a portmanteau of “white” or “wannabe” and “Japanese”) to denote a Japanophile. To combat this, a wordfilter was created, which scanned all posts and changed the word “wapanese” to the word “weeaboo”. Though there is no specific date for when the wordfilter was initiated or when it was removed, thanks to the subject matter, high degree of usage, and constant arguments about anime/manga, it was in place long enough for weeaboo to completely supplant wapanese when denoting a Japanophile.
Interestingly, this is another case of “new word, older concept”. Though the word is less than 15 years old, the concept actually originated in the late 1700s and early 1800s, as Japanese art and culture was first introduced in Europe, causing widespread interest. While the Rinpa school of painting and Ikebana (Japanese flower arranging) may not quite be the equivalent of anime and manga, different Japanese cultural outlets have attracted different people and inspired them to completely submerge themselves in many aspects of Japanese culture. Still, whether your interest is casual or borderline fanatical, the key is knowing when to stop.