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I am part of a team that manages a repository named "moonspeak".

The team is reflecting on the names and terms we use and since we're driven by a solid commitment to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB), it's been top of mind that the term "moonspeak" might carry a lot of historical baggage with it. They're concerned about the possibility of it being derogatory or insensitive.

The team didn't craft the initial choice of the name, but they are sure it was made with positive intentions, trying to have some fun with the naming. However, they recognize that intentions don't always align with impact. Thus, they're committed to ensuring our language is respectful and inclusive.

In the spirit of learning and growth, I'm reaching out to this community for information:

  1. Historical Usage: Could anyone provide a brief history of the term "moonspeak"? Specifically, how did it come to be used, and has there been any evolution in its meaning over time? I've read the wiktionary page on it, though it provides little understanding other than to read about Turn A Gundam anime. There's also this dictionary reference, which is anemic in history.
  2. Current Understanding: Is "moonspeak" broadly considered derogatory or offensive in any context? I'm particularly interested in any cultural or linguistic nuances that might influence its perception.
  3. References for Further Learning: I would greatly appreciate any references or resources that could help us understand this term better. Academic articles, reputable websites, or historical documents would be beneficial.

We're open to changing the name of our repository if we find that it doesn't align with our DEIB values. Just posting this question lets us know that we should likely change it in either case to continue fostering an open and welcoming team.

Thanks for any insights provided; they mean a lot to us.


PS from comments: This repo was created on Aug 12, 2012. This repository aims to serve as the system for translating across the SO/SE network with data from Traducir.

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    Know Your Meme (one of the top search results) provides more history. It seems to be as you say derived from Turn A Gundam and popularised on 4chan. I don't think there's a lot more to be said about its history - it's not very common but it will carry that meaning for some people. You should have researched it sooner; best option now is to say "my bad" and change the name. I'm not sure what you want other than opinions, which are off-topic.
    – Stuart F
    Apr 1 at 14:41
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    I'm lost. Why suspect you are using a slur if you have no knowledge it "might carry a lot of historical baggage with it"? I've heard "housekeeping" is sexist because it might be associated with female cleaners, so we have to call it maintenance." Circular logic to think that outsiders may have a sexist association that we have to be protected from. Apr 1 at 14:43
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    @Mitch, This repository aims to serve as the system for translating across the SO/SE network with data from Traducir
    – Avogadro
    Apr 1 at 14:59
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    I just realized that the moon (luna) is related to lunatic. So, moonspeak would be like lunatic-speak, if one were pushing it. But why would you name a translation thing from Spanish with that word anyway?
    – Lambie
    Apr 1 at 16:27
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    FWIW, this is not a term in wide usage.
    – ohwilleke
    Apr 2 at 18:49

3 Answers 3

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The Wiktionary entry covers a specific, internet-borne usage of moonspeak to stereotype languages English speakers treat as incomprehensible. Another source documenting that use, Know Your Meme, also notes its sometimes derogatory use toward languages with non-Latin alphabets:

Moonspeak is a somewhat derogatory internet slang term for any non-English language text. Though the term can be used with any language other than English it is typically only used with languages using a non-Latin alphabet, particularly Japanese. 1 Another usage has the term describe anything the reader finds unintelligible regardless of language, e.g. technical or legal jargon.

The article again attributes the usage to Turn A Gundam (1999-2002). So to follow up on these sources, I look at two questions related to yours: (a) is there a history of the usage before Turn A Gundam, and what does that suggest about the word's potential? (b) what does usage in the last decade look like, and does that include derogatory usage?

Earlier References to Moonspeak

It seems plausible that earlier English users might come up with Moonspeak, given the 20th century tendency to form new languages or dialects through -speak (see Oxford English Dictionary, "-speak," suffix) and moon landings, bases, and inhabitants being common motifs in science fiction and other genres.

One example is the China Moon Cookbook by Barbara Tropp (1992), where p. 20 has the header Moonspeak. The start of the page elaborates:

Moonspeak is the zany combination of Chinese, Yiddish, English, and pidgin that permeates our kitchen communication. Some of it has to do with my own fascination with language and the love of a verbal tickle. But a lot of it is the necessary oral shorthand that guides any frantic business that relies on humans and their words. Here, then, is a guide to Moonspeak in semi-random order.

The terms that are listed are mainly cooking terms, starting with moons - things wedge or crescent shaped, like cut onions or some pastries. The author approaches this term with affection for their own in-house communication style.

Moonspeak also appears in the 1997 book Rude Mechanicals by Sue Prideaux. The word seems to refer to incomprehensibility (p.8):

Everything was completely personal for the girl, or completely meaningless. Abstract, intellectual, or formal concepts might be moonspeak; indeed, so self-absorbed was she that not even gossip appealed.

The usages prior to the 2000s are sparse enough that they may be nonce usages, made up for the occasion. That said, it's notable that the usages both highlight a kind of incomprehensibility, either from mixed dialects or from being so abstract as to seem detached.

Moonspeak Now: Sometimes Derogatory

The experience Mitch describes is one I had. I couldn't recall ever hearing or seeing moonspeak used. However, there are search results that suggest varied use, sometimes derogatory and sometimes in a more neutral register.

For example, how do we understand this Meta StackOverflow comment to a Spanish-speaking programmer from Argentina, whose original post had some common L2 writer errors. One commenter (user1228, Jul 23, 2014) says

The fact that you refuse to follow the framework design guidelines (lower case property names???) irks me more than your moonspeak.

In context, the writer's errors in English are described as moonspeak. The usage suggests negativity toward infelicitous usage.

Other possibly derogatory usages can be found outside of published texts, such as on Reddit. One thread from 2019, "Damn moonspeak," refers to basic Japanese characters on a tablet as moonspeak. Another thread on r/translator referring to a bronze vessel in a form of Chinese has a top comment referring to it as "moonspeak." The commenter elaborates:

It's archaic Chinese (上古漢語) that's so old the only people who can decipher it are probably linguists who study this particular form of script. I can recognise the occasional characters (王,月) that never evolved much but hopes of having this translated fully is pretty abysmal unless you take this further.

Another commenter chimes in pointing out it could be derogatory, and the original poster apologizes and explains they use the term "to describe any rune-looking languages for cheap laughs."

Finding more flagrant derogatory usage may be harder because mainstream sites like Reddit would likely moderate blatant derogatory usage, and other sites (e.g., 4chan) are by design ephemeral. For instance, on 4chan it is common to encounter "moonspeak" to refer to Japanese. In example 1, the commenter is excluding someone who posted only in Japanese. In example 2, the context is highly negative and paired with other derogatory terms like "tranny":

"we don't read moonspeak around here"

"ay yo moonspeak tranny we speak american here fuck off"

That said, usage contextually distinct from human language boundaries may be more acceptable. For instance, here is the 2024 children's book Little Owl's Babysitter by Debi Gliori, where Moonspeak refers literally to the moon:

"First," said Pinny," I'll need to read it a very long and boring story in Moonspeak. Then, I'll have to make it a toasted asteroid snack with stardust sprinkles."

That book was published by Bloomsbury and the usage got past editors. Perhaps, if you were really clear on your usage and branding (focusing on the Moon), you might get away with using Moonspeak. But there is also a real risk of people seeing the usage as derogatory, particularly if they are familiar with 4chan and other venues.

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    I see nothing wrong with it in that story. I think one has to avoid going over the cliff with the internet lemmings.
    – Lambie
    Apr 1 at 16:30
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    I don't think a couple of internet idiot speakers should be allowed to rule the world. The moon has many faces, one is related to lunatics and the other to romance and mystery.
    – Lambie
    Apr 1 at 17:26
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    @Lambie I document English usage; I do not make the rules. The term is derogatory to more than "a couple of internet idiots," but, as I acknowledge, not universally derogatory. I'm not going to quote every derogatory usage ad nauseam to prove that point. Apr 1 at 17:29
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    And that is fine that you do that. For me, that does not mean it is inherently deragatory. But admit that the one you posted is certainly idiotspeak. I'd love to see one that is not from an internet idiot speaker. Got any? :)
    – Lambie
    Apr 1 at 17:32
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    Moonspeak in the China Moon Cookbook is literal. Tropp’s restaurant was called China Moon. In the book, she is describing the jargon they use in working at China Moon. Apr 1 at 23:10
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First, the data.

  • 'moonspeak' does not appear in Google NGrams (up to 2019).
  • a regular google search finds it often as a title word in various slang dictionaries, but in the top there are no authentic instances of actual use (in a sentence not about the word).
  • an entry appears in Urban Dictionary Aug 1 2006.
  • an entry appears in Wiktionary Mar 5 2009. The 'yourdictionary' entry is scraped from Wiktionary.

Now to analysis and judgement.

  • This is the first time I've heard the word before.
  • Urban Dictionary is not a reliable source. Things are often made up, or recorded from being made up the drunken night before. It is a good source for slang that may eventually catch on but there's never a guarantee that it will catch on or even exists outside the mind of a single person.
  • Wiktionary is not a reliable source for data about a word. It is fairly reliable on a word's existence, and some words have excellent history and commentary, but it is crowd sourced by non-professionals (anybody can put anything in there, just like Urban Dictionary).
  • All the google search entries seem to link or refer back to the Wiktionary mentions of anime and 'slang, derogatory'.

So there's no authoritative justification that the term is derogatory, but its minor use in the general public (ie google search) makes it slang at best. It may well be common in the anime community but there's no currently easy semantic search for that.

Now for a deeper semantic analysis of the word on its own. 'moonspeak' sounds to me like a very mild pejorative, what people from the moon would sound like, very alien and strange sounding. On the scale of pejoration it seems very mild, like a minced oath. It might be used in a very informal somewhat juvenile situation when referring to others, but might be a little mean to tell someone that they speak 'moonspeak'. The wiktionary explanation sounds very plausible.

A good test for feeling about it: suppose you go to a foreign country and someone tells you the way you talk sounds like moonspeak. Sure you don't talk like the locals, but calling it moonspeak sounds like an insult.

But even a mild oath seems out of place for the label of a scholarly repository, even if native speakers will never see it.

Of course, if in fact it is a repository of some conlang in science fiction about the differences in speech among moon colonists, then it is entirely factual (ie not metaphorical) and would then be OK. I'm struggling to find similar uncolorful language.

I think that attempts to answer your first two questions. There's no real written 'history' of the word available (no published list of OED-l-ke instances in literature). But the word does seem 'othering' if it is a metaphor for 'foreign-sounding'.

As to where to go now, find an on-line searchable set of anime text (past 30 years) and look for the use of 'moonspeak' wherever it appears. And you could also ask on an anime forum, but you'll have to ask your question in way that is accessible to domain experts who are not attuned to lexicography.

TLDR: You should probably change the name.

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    So, this repository is scholarly? That's a laugh.
    – Lambie
    Apr 1 at 17:27
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    Well, it's bad because it involves Spanish. So...
    – Lambie
    Apr 1 at 17:54
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    The issue isn't with it being a "rude" word the way an f-word is - the issue is that it's a way of saying that something is incomprehensible nonsense that's often used to dismiss non-English languages as something that might as well be nonsense. Is it used that way often enough to preempt the original meaning and become an expletive in itself? I'd say yes, but even if you disagree it's better to err on the side of caution - demonstrating citations as to why someone shouldn't feel insulted has never made anyone stop feeling insulted. Apr 2 at 11:35
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    @MaciejStachowski by that metric it's no more expletive than "Greek" or "Latin".
    – Dan M.
    Apr 2 at 16:42
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    @DanM. calling something "Greek" to you can be derogatory, but the word is far more commonly used to neutrally describe the actual language spoken in Greece (modern or ancient). Meanwhile "moonspeak" is only used to call something incomprehensible, usually refers to languages that don't use the Latin alphabet, and very often with an undertone of "this is not how normal people talk". Many offensive words start off neutral or innocent, but over time become slurs due to being predominantly used in a derogatory context. Apr 2 at 18:57
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This isn’t an answer to your question particularly, but I thought it might provide an interesting take on universal language vs. translation and even suggest that your original repository namer was a linguist of sorts.

In The Universal Translator — Everything You Need to Know about 139 Languages that Don’t Really Exist (Yens Wahlgren, 2021), we find a chapter titled:

Artificial Languages throughout History
Starting with the Ancient Greeks — Obviously

It’s followed by a running list of chapter contents:


Goídelc, Lingua Ignota, Balaibalan, Enochian, Utopian, Ringuam Albaras, Moonspeak, Lilliputian, Houyhnhnm, Nazarian, Quamite, Volapük, Esperanto, Solresol


Here’s an excerpt from the passage referred to by Moonspeak in the above list (which is the only place the word appears in the book):

The Seventeenth-Century Languages of Logic

The seventeenth century saw the first major wave of artificial languages....

What was needed was, quite simply, a better language. A more precise language. Maybe an artificial language could herald a return to the time before the Tower of Babel and the great confusion of tongues?...

During this time there was also great interest in the West for Chinese characters. The philosopher Francis Bacon considered these characters to be ‘authentic’ because they represent pure ideas as opposed to words or sounds....

A very early science-fiction novel, Francis Godwin’s The Man in the Moone from 1638, tells the story of how protagonist Gonsales flies to the moon with the help of swans. On the moon, giants live in a utopian society where a universal moon language is used and understood by everyone. Inspired by a travelogue about China and its description of the Chinese languages, Godwin created a musical lunar language consisting of both words and tones. The vocabulary seems limited to Gonsales, but a variety of tones help to make different words.

Cyrano de Bergerac exhumes the melodic moon language in A Voyage to the Moon (1657). The hero of de Bergerac’s sci-fi novel, Dyrcona, even meets Godwin’s main character Gonsales....

These and similar stories provided intellectual fodder for the objectives of the universal language project: the need for international communication and a precise, logical language....

Many took mathematical principals as their starting point so sentences could be built up like formulae....

tl;dr: Consider keeping the repository name.

See also:
Wikipedia — The Man in the Moone
Archive.org — The Man in the Moone

spread from The Man in the Moone

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