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I was looking for a term to define the eyes shape of oriental people and I discovered that the term slant-eye is a derogatory one:

  • (offensive) a person with slanting eyes; especially , one of Asian ancestry

(MerriamWebster)

I checked its etymology and found that :

  • Derogatory slang sense of "a slant-eyed Asian person" is recorded from 1943, from earlier slant-eyes (1929).

(Etymologyonline)

It seems that it was a neutral term at first but it became derogatory later. Is it so? What made the term sound offensive?

What alternative neutral expression can I use instead of "slanting eyes?

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    NB: oriental is itself deprecated in North America. Asian is commonly used instead for East Asian people instead, and there is no separate word for people from the Indian subcontinent or other parts of Asia. – choster Apr 26 '16 at 14:11
  • Whether or not something is offensive is almost always dependent on the context. E.g. If I said, "Wow; they're so black!", in referring to some coal miners after they came out of the mines, you'd be hard-pressed to find me at fault if their attire and skin were covered in coal dust. I'm sure you can think of a case where that same phrase would be offensive. – FuriousFolder Apr 26 '16 at 18:51
  • Further NB: the usage and sensibilities that @choster describes are unique to America. In the UK, describing someone as "Asian" without qualification would likely lead the listener to imagine someone who is ethnically Indian or similar, rather than ethnically East Asian. Meanwhile, "oriental" is not widely seen as offensive and indeed is used in shop and restaurant names without a raised eyebrow. – Mark Amery Apr 26 at 11:51
  • "Slanting" is inaccurate as well as potentially offensive. So I can't see any possible reason for using it. – user323578 Apr 26 at 11:53
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If, for some reason, you need to refer to the eye shape of a person with Asian heritage (or with similar eye shape), you can refer to the epicanthic fold. Less technical, but slightly riskier: almond eyes.

Current style is to avoid references to race, skin colour and such like in most situations. If you have to point out the one Chinese-American in room full of Swedish-Americans you might have to refer to the lady with the green shoes or something like that, and 'person' would be safer than 'lady'.

Terms such as "slant-eyed" and "mongoloid" are almost always very offensive.

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    almond eyes is arguably more offensive than slant-eyes – cat Apr 26 '16 at 14:33
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    Heh, I'd like to see the Asian who would be offended by using the expression Asian to differentiate someone in a room full of Swedes. – pipe Apr 26 '16 at 15:02
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    @cat Could you give the argument for that? I’ve only ever heard almond eyes used as a clearly positive term, and I myself consider it quite a lovely (and fitting, even if not actually physiognomically accurate) description. Slant-eyes, on the other hand, I have only heard as an offensive term. Saying that almond eyes is the more offensive sounds to me like saying that calling very light skin milky is more offensive than calling it pasty. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 26 '16 at 16:52
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    If asked, for example, "Who's in charge here?", and the individual happens to be female, why on earth would it be "safer" to refer to her as a 'person' instead of a 'lady'? – Michael J. Apr 26 '16 at 17:09
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    I think the potential problem with "almond eyes" is not that it's inherently offensive but often used in a similar way as "chocolate-skinned" i.e. when fetishizing a race. Can be taken slightly negatively depending on context... but deserving of an eye-roll at worst. – Cat'r'pillar Apr 26 '16 at 18:09
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If you're solely discussing shape, I've seen them referred to as almond-shaped eyes, but I have no idea if this might be considered offensive to people who aren't round-eyed.

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It's offensive because it was used a derogatory term from the start, much in the same way that the N-word is offensive to Black people. On the surface the N-word is simply a word to describe a Black person, but because of its historical use it is extremely offensive.

The typical way to describe someone who has those characteristics is to simply use their country or region of origin. For example, 'That man is Asian' or 'That man is Vietnamese', etc.

Or, better yet, don't just generalize a person based on their physical appearance and actually ask the person where they come from. For example, an American with Chinese parents would display those characteristics but be an American.

  • Thanks, so you mean that I should avoid referring to their eyes shape because for some reason it is offensive. – user240918 Apr 26 '16 at 10:00
  • @Saturana exactly. – SGR Apr 26 '16 at 10:01
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    Of course, you absolutely have to know that using the country of origin will not cause any issues either. That is to say, you have to know the correct country, know that the person described does not object to the reference, nor does the audience. And it's a big region with enough sensitivities. Certainly don't do this with second-generation immigrants who are integrated into their new country. – MSalters Apr 26 '16 at 15:00
  • You’re assuming here that the asker is wanting to describe or identify a person by the shape of their eyes, which is not necessarily true. There are other reasons for discussing eye shape—doing so can be the end goal in itself, for example. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 26 '16 at 16:46
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    Also, if you see someone committing a crime, do NOT, I repeat do NOT let anyone know their skin tone, hair color, assumed race or gender. Stick to height, shirt color, long or short pants and shoe type. – AbraCadaver Apr 26 '16 at 17:26
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You might consider, have Asian eyes

  • Thanks, what does "brides" literally means? Is it offensive in French? – user240918 Apr 26 '16 at 10:04
  • @Saturana It means "slanting" and is not considered to be particularly offensive. wordreference.com/fren/bridé Alternately, how about "sloe-eyed" and "almond-eyed"? – Elian Apr 26 '16 at 10:10
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    This may be acceptable for informal situations, but it's vague and not helpful in general. If you are using this to describe an Asian person then it's redundant. If you are using this to describe a non-Asian person then it's confusing. A precise term would be more useful. – bejonsson Apr 26 '16 at 12:51
  • Why did you link to the French version of the site? – Jake Apr 26 '16 at 17:30
  • @Jake Because the expression is not found in the English one. wordreference.com/enfr/Asian%20eyes – Elian Apr 26 '16 at 17:54
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"Slant eye" would mean a person with slanting eyes, and you'd be describing the person, not their eyes.

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    Thanks, but if I say that a person has slanting eyes, does it sound offensive? – user240918 Apr 26 '16 at 9:58
  • @Saturana it sounds offensive to me, but some additional context of how and why you're using it may be useful. – Andrew Grimm Apr 26 '16 at 10:09
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I agree with @Spehro Pefhany that the safest term these days is "epicanthic fold". It is very unlikely to cause offense.

However, I would add that technically speaking, the epicanthic fold is not necessarily present in all Asian races. There are many who have the 'slanting' [sic] eye shape but who do not have the epicanthic fold. I agree that it is a more useful term than most others which can be construed as pejorative. But strictly speaking, an Asian person might not have the epicanthic fold and a Causasian person could have it, for example. Just something to note if you decide to use this term.

I wonder if the terms 'elongated eye shape' or 'oval eye shape' might be viable alternatives.

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