The discussion on the meaning and connotations of the world 'Oriental' got me thinking along similar lines on the usage of 'Western' world or 'the West' to denote North America and Europe. I find it interesting how in many situations Africa and Latin America aren't considered belonging to the 'West', even though in a strictly longitudinal sense they are to the west of 'the East' / 'Orient'.

Has anyone come across situations where using 'the West' is considered pejorative, and, if yes, what alternative terms are / can be used?

  • To clarify - I'm specifically referring to usage of 'West' or 'Western' to refer to the group of countries, not its usage to denote parts of USA. – Ankur Banerjee Apr 3 '11 at 12:34
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    To continue that idea, it is strange that 'the West', which seems to refer to countries with predominantly European culture (vague words are hardly ever literal), does not extend to Latin America. Since 'the West' includes Australia/New Zealand, it presumably means 'first world economies predominantly populated by Europeans or their colonists' (so Vladivostok and Cape Town are in 'the West' but Quito and Tokyo are not). – Mitch Apr 3 '11 at 15:03
  • Yes @Mitch, you are quite right to assume that by most people, South Africa, of largely white population and white rule, would be considered western while even China, with all it's technology and so on, would still be considered Eastern. – Karl Apr 4 '11 at 6:33
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    @Ankur: I think imperialism is only a secondary connotation of the 'West' or 'Western'. Surely the current imperialists are from the 'West', but the primary meaning of 'West' is ... well... it isn't about their imperialist tendencies. (I was going to add political and cultural but that would involve imperialism). – Mitch Apr 4 '11 at 13:47
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    @Karl: yes it's confusing trying to separate out what the 'West' means, is it geographic, ethnic, economic, political, or what combination. – Mitch Apr 4 '11 at 13:50

'Western' is often used to refer to the developed world, but even then tends to limit itself to countries populated by white people.

You have mentioned North America, the UK and Europe. You might be interested to know that usually, Australia and New Zealand are considered a part of 'Western' culture and society regardless of their proximity to East Asia.

You asked if it is used pejoratively. In some cases, yes.

For example, it is often used to refer to decadent culture. I now live in Indonesia, a Muslim country. Here, a lot of people use the term 'Western culture' to encompass what they consider negative practices (such as sex before marriage, gambling, etc.) that they see as being normal behaviour in 'the West'.

Therefore, Westerners are often seen as being of low moral fibre. Unfortunately, in some areas, it has even become almost interchangeable with the term infidel.

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    Millsom I get what you're saying too. I study in the UK, but for the past year I'm on a study exchange in Singapore. Travelling around here, in Islamic countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia I definitely came across a...negative...attitude towards 'Western culture'. Correct me if I'm wrong, but for the bits of 'Western culture' they do adopt, what term do they use - 'progressive'? – Ankur Banerjee Apr 3 '11 at 15:44
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    Yeah, 'progressive' tends to be the one. The Indonesian for 'developed country' is 'negara maju', with 'maju' meaning 'forward' and that is how they tend to describe the positive parts (the parts they want to welcome to their own country) - as progressive. – Karl Apr 3 '11 at 15:59

Western is much clearer than the West. From the New Oxford American Dictionary:

Western: living in or originating from the west, in particular Europe or the U.S.

while there are many possible definitions for the West:

the West:

  • Europe and its culture seen in contrast to other civilizations.
  • historical the noncommunist states of Europe and North America, contrasted with the former communist states of eastern Europe.
  • the western part of the U.S., esp. the states west of the Mississippi.

Apart from the Occident, I can't think of any single-word alternative.

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  • @F'x Occident is a counterpart to Orient, isn't it? – Ankur Banerjee Apr 3 '11 at 12:37
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    It is, both strictly speaking and in the etymology (they refer to the Sun rising and settling). But it covers roughly the same idea as Western. – F'x Apr 3 '11 at 12:43
  • It's not strictly related but it's interesting I think: I noticed that while in Italian we have the actual words to refer to sun rising and setting (Levante and Ponente respectively), in English the translation provided is just "the West" and "the East"... – Alenanno Apr 3 '11 at 13:03
  • French has “levant/ponant” (rising/settling), “occident/orient” (from the Latin roots) and “est/ouest” (East/West). The first pair fell into disuse, though. – F'x Apr 3 '11 at 13:05
  • The word Levant is used in English too, but referring to a much more restricted area than "the East". – psmears Apr 3 '11 at 17:43

The "Western world" is a term used to denote the descendants of and adherents to "Western culture". As the Wikipedia article on western culture states:

The concept of Western culture is generally linked to the classical definition of the Western world. In this definition, Western culture is the set of literary, scientific, political, artistic and philosophical principles which set it apart from other cultural spheres. Much of this set of traditions and knowledge is collected in the Western canon.

The link in the quote includes this description of the Western World:

The concept of the Western world has its roots in Greco-Roman civilization in Europe, the advent of Christianity, and the Great Schism in the 11th Century which divided the religion into Eastern and Western halves. In the modern era, Western culture has been heavily influenced by the traditions of The Renaissance and The Enlightenment, and shaped by expansive colonialism in the 18th-19th Century. Its political usage was temporarily informed by mutual antagonism with the Soviet bloc during the Cold War in the mid to late 20th Century. In the contemporary political and cultural context, the Western World generally refers to the nations of the Americas, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Israel.

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    As an example of how context matters, to some Islamists, Communism is a "Western" idea. – Andrew Grimm Apr 4 '11 at 0:29

Upon looking up the word 'levant' I came upon this site from the net. As a child in the South USA and being in a port town, we had many immigrants from everywhere. Italy, Ireland, England, Germany, Jews, China and of course Black people. What we would call Western Europe. The diversity in our little town was something to behold. Then we had Syrians, Lebanese, and middle east peoples. The Jews and middle eastern people all went to the catholic schools. In my childhood world I was told by the nuns who taught me and my church these people were Levants. The people themselves told me they were Levants. Today we have disruption in the middle east and ISIL is using the word Levant. Was it a lie?

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    The question as posed was "Has anyone come across situations where using 'the West' is considered pejorative, and, if yes, what alternative terms are / can be used?" but this doesn't answer that. If you can edit it so that it becomes an answer to the question, please do so; otherwise I'm afraid your answer will probably be deleted. – Andrew Leach Aug 26 '14 at 22:04

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