The word is a loanword from the Japanese language, in which it is derived from an honorific term for another's house or family (お宅, otaku) that is also used as an honorific second-person pronoun. The modern slang form, which is distinguished from the older usage by being written only in hiragana (おたく) or katakana (オタク), appeared in the 1980s; it appears to have been coined by the humorist and essayist Akio Nakamori (中森明夫, Nakamori Akio) in the 1983 series "An investigation of otaku" (おたくの研究, otaku no kenkyū), who observed that this form of address was unusually common among nerds. It entered general use in Japan around 1989, and may have been popularised by Nakamori's publication in that year of "The age of M" (Ｍの時代, M no jidai), which applied the term to the (then) recently caught serial killer Tsutomu Miyazaki, who turned out to be a loner obsessed with pornographic anime and manga (which is often called hentai in North America).
In modern Japanese slang, therefore, an otaku is an obsessive fan of any one particular theme, topic, or hobby. Perhaps the most common uses are anime otaku (who sometimes enjoys many days of excessive anime watching with no rest) and manga otaku (a fan of Japanese comic books). Japanese culture has many other varieties, such as pasokon otaku (personal computer geeks), gēmu otaku (playing video games), and otaku that are extreme fans of idols, heavily promoted singing girls. While these are the most common uses of otaku, the word can be applied to literally anything. Thus, one could have music otaku, martial arts otaku, cooking otaku, train otaku (metrophiles) et cetera.
While in Japanese the term otaku has strong negative connotations, in English the connotation differs from person to person. Some fans consider the word to have a positive one, while others consider it to have a negative one. Wapanese and Japanophile are derogatory terms that are sometimes used.
See also: anorak.
Otaku culture outside Japan often makes extensive use of Japanese loanwords. This can create an effect that is similar to Engrish, where the otaku will use Japanese phrases in conjunction with English.
Because many otaku loanwords come from sources such as bishōjo with characters who employ "feminine" vocabulary (especially words usually reserved for very young girls/women), this has the amusing effect of causing some fans to sound like young girls.
Anime and manga are two English words that were once solely otaku vocabulary, but have become common English. Before the term "anime" was adopted into English, they were simply called cartoons (e.g. Speed Racer). This was later downplayed to reduce identification with all anime as children's fare or humorous, although much of anime in Japan is geared towards a young audience. Similarly, until recently comics were associated with young readers in America versus manga, which is popular with all literate ages.
List of common otaku loan words:
- anime (now common English vocabulary)
- baka - "stupid"
- bishōnen/bishōjo - in both noun and adjective form, "pretty young man" or "pretty young woman". Increasingly shortened in English to "bish" or "bishy" (almost exclusively for the male form.)
- Domo - Hello, (or greetings equal..)
- Demo - But
- hai - "yes", "okay" (doesn't always mean yes)
- hentai - Perverted or pornographic; especially used to describe pornographic genres: hentai anime, hentai manga, hentai game. Note that this differs from Japanese usage, where "hentai" (変態) means "transformation", "abnormal", and "pervert", not pornography.
- Japanese honorifics: -chan, -kun, -san, -sama, respectively a diminutive honorific (especially for girls); one's juniors; one's equals or superiors; and one's high superiors. In Japan the use of these titles is highly subjective and subtle, therefore if one's relationship to another person is unclear, "-san" is the default honorific. In particular men do not usually refer to people outside of close female friends or relatives as "-chan" because of the possibility of serious misunderstandings.
- kawaii - "cute". Used especially to describe bishōjo-type cuteness. This differs from Japanese: the slang word moe (萌え) is used among Japanese otaku to describe bishōjo cuteness, and kawaii (可愛い) is the generic word for cute.
- manga (now common English vocabulary)
- Nani? - "what?" especially in astonishment
- Neko - "cat"
- omoshiroi - "interesting"
- onegai - "please"
- oniisan - older brother
- Censored page - genre for anime/manga having gay themes
- yuri - genre for anime/manga having lesbian themes
- sensei - "teacher" or "doctor", also used to refer to manga authors
- shitajiki - pencil board with anime/manga art
- sugoi - expression of wonder or enthusiasm similar to "awesome!"
- wai - Often used as "wai-wai", sound of excitement like "woohoo"; this is a childish word in Japan sometimes used by women in a self-parodying "cute" manner.
The term "glomp" (to latch onto or hug with much enthusiasm) is often used in anime fandom. The word is said to come from the anime series Ranma ½ (although the series never uses that term) where the character Shampoo would at times overzealously hug the main character, Ranma Saotome; the onomatopoeion of said hug would be "glomp".
The Politics of Otaku
Amateur Manga Subculture and the Otaku Panic