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~Seventy years after 'The War', is Jap still considered to be an ethnic slur in the US? Is/was it also considered offensive in the UK?

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    In the US, yes. Nov 6, 2012 at 18:59
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    Should I feel offended if someone calls me a Brit? If not, why not? Nov 6, 2012 at 19:17
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    @BarrieEngland I don't think anybody but you gets a vote. Nov 6, 2012 at 19:20
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    Then if Brit isn't offensive, and I don't think it is, why is Jap? Nov 6, 2012 at 19:23
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    As a Japanese American, I still consider the term offensive, mostly as it demonstrates that someone doesn't know the history of the term.
    – simchona
    Nov 6, 2012 at 20:26

6 Answers 6

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Jap is still considered an offensive term in the US. From personal experience, I remember an afternoon in public school where a classmate used the word "Jap" and was scolded by the teacher. The well-cited Wikipedia entry on the term supports this:

Today it is generally regarded as an ethnic slur among Japanese minority populations in other countries, although English-speaking countries differ in the degree to which they consider the term offensive. In the United States, Japanese Americans have come to find the term controversial or offensive, even when used as an abbreviation.

Additionally, there's evidence that the term can be controversial in the UK specifically. Again from the Wikipedia:

In 2011, following the term's offhand use in a March 26 article appearing in The Spectator ("white-coated Jap bloke"), the Minister of the Japanese Embassy in London protested that "most Japanese people find the word ‘Jap’ offensive, irrespective of the circumstances in which it is used."

Perhaps it goes without saying, but the term is considered offensive due to its usage by Americans during WWII. (Before the war it was not considered offensive.) Once more from the Wikipedia entry on the term:

Later popularized during World War II to describe those of Japanese descent, "Jap" was then commonly used in newspaper headlines to refer to the Japanese and Imperial Japan. "Jap" became a derogatory term during the war, more so than "Nip." Veteran and author Paul Fussell explains the usefulness of the word during the war for creating effective propaganda by saying that "Japs" "was a brisk monosyllable handy for slogans like 'Rap the Jap' or 'Let's Blast the Jap Clean Off the Map.'"

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  • Thanks. It's bizarre that even the Japanese government considers the term offensive. Nov 6, 2012 at 20:16
  • @coleopterist The Japanese government is quite schizophrenic -- opinions on various issues differ even within each party. Many Japanese politicians would probably take no offense to the term. Nov 7, 2012 at 9:52
  • @ReiMiyasaka After remarking on this reaction by the "Minister, Embassy of Japan", the WP article actually goes on to state, "In Japan the word is not popularly known, used and referenced since Japanese are the majority of the population and there is no setting to create distinctions." Very odd. Nov 7, 2012 at 13:06
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My parents are Japanese, I was born in Japan, and I'm a Japanese-English translator living in Canada.

Of the people I know, second and third-generation Japanese-Canadians seem to take the most offense. Part of it may be due to the lingering anger of having been cast aside (and in many cases shunned and mistreated) by the rest of Canada during World War II.

Meanwhile, even among the well-read, the Japanese living in Japan seem to have no trouble using the word "jap" both in communication amongst themselves and in communication with English-speakers. After all, the Japanese often find it stylish and convenient both to write in English and to abbreviate liberally. If someone in Japan does take offense to it, it's often only because they'd been instructed to.

So, to (kind of) answer your question, considering many of us don't care as much anymore, I think the offensive use of the term "jap" is probably on its way out, being replaced by -- or returned to -- its benign use as a natural and linguistically sound abbreviation. Personally, I welcome this, and wish it to happen sooner rather than later. In fact, I use the nickname japinthebox frequently online, and no one seems upset by it -- at least, not enough to say so.

"Jap" was probably already in use before the war without any racial overtones. I only find it offensive when it's said to emphasize a remark that already suggests racism, and I argue that people who see nothing wrong with the word nonetheless become upset simply because they recognize that some other people still do. It's a strange self-perpetuating sentiment.

"Jap" differs from "nip" in that the latter isn't even English, and so one must have gone out of their way to use it with vile, whereas "Jap" is an abbreviation of "Japanese" with legitimate usage outside of the war and probably even before it. We say "the Afghans" quite casually now, and it's used just as casually in the war in Afghanistan, but just because of the way the war is going there, there may come a time when people insist that we stop using the word "Afghans" and say "Afghanis" instead -- which given our current perspective, we know would be just a little bit absurd.

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  • Interesting POV; thank you. Re: nip, my understanding is that even today Japanese in Japan rarely refer to their country as anything other than Nihon or Nippon. I suspect that Nippon was a lot more prominent back in 1939 than it is today. Please correct me if I'm wrong. Nov 7, 2012 at 13:16
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    @coleopterist Yep, that's exactly right. "Nihon" and "Nippon" are equally correct, but younger people especially don't seem to use "Nippon" as much -- partially for phonetic reasons, but also just because it's come to be associated with old people. It also sounds more official, so it tends to be used by news anchors and corporations and such. "Nip" isn't recognized as anything other than a wartime racial slur, as it isn't even phonetically comfortable. The other one that went out of usage immediately after the war is "Dai Nippon Teikoku" (Great Empire of Japan) -- for obvious reasons. Nov 7, 2012 at 21:48
  • I've never even heard of "nip" as a pejorative for Japanese people until today. I always assumed it was something you do to something in the bud.
    – Joe Z.
    Oct 8, 2014 at 19:21
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Interesting.
from far off Kiwi land aka New Zealand.
The following are words with country name or nationality implicit or clear.
There are, of course, many ethnic slurs which are not country related terms.

Offensive:

Jap - not unknown. Never polite. Can be rude. Paki - rare. Would usually be rude.
Chink - increasingly rare. Always dismissive to rude.

Uncertain to risky:

Frenchy - more dismissive than offensive.
Iti (I-tie) (obsolescent)
Dutchie

Casual - perhaps a hint of good humoured denigration amongst mates:

Brit - moderately common.
Pom - slightly dismissive sometimes. Depends on context. (= Brit = Prisoner of Mother England)
Ozzie - Australian. Common. Informal. Bantering. Never rude per se.
Dali - common, fading. Dalmation - product of NZ gum-digging years).
Ruski - rarer of late

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    Roosky is how you pronounce "Russian" (русски) in Russian. Nov 6, 2012 at 23:33
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I spoke with an American about this question recently. He said, as someone with a mother from Japan, that he still found this term offensive. At the same time, he said that he understood that many people simply don't know better.

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"Jap" isn't used only about Japanese people.

In Australia and New Zealand, kabocha is sometimes called a "Japanese pumpkin" according to Wikipedia, or a "Jap pumpkin", according to the blog Stomachs on legs. It's sometimes sold in grocery stores as "Jap pumpkin". Based on the comments in the blog post, I'd say some people find the term acceptable, some do not.

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The"J" word is no more acceptable and as racially charged for not only Japanese Americans, or Asian Americans in general, but also for many native Japanese, as the "N" word" is for African Americans and blacks from all over the globe. And akin to the "C" word for Chinese - and many do not make the distinction. I find it appalling that there are people here casually discussing this as if the term is somehow now acceptable, a linguistic term or even trendy. The word is NEVER acceptable, both in the US and Japan. As the spouse of a Japanese man (who knows very well what it means in all of its negative and racial connotations - and detests its use) and, the parent of a bicultural/racial child, who was called the "J" word on the playground, our family knows well what this racist and foul term means. It is always interesting to me that derogatory terms against Asians are often downplayed as if Asians are still fair game. Wake up people.

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    People discuss all kinds of words here. You can find questions about words like Kraut, Paki and negro too. You might infer from the question that the asker is neither from the US nor from UK - he is clearly not exposed to the culture you have been exposed to.
    – prash
    Feb 10, 2013 at 21:43
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    What exactly are you talking about when you say "J" word and "C" word? Do you mean we shouldn't refer to Japanese people as Japanese and Chinese people as Chinese? I ask because I don't know of a "C" word that is short for Chinese. Feb 10, 2017 at 8:03
  • @DepressedDaniel the racial slur for Chinese people rhymes with "pink".
    – Judas
    Jan 22, 2021 at 1:37

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