Appropriated Words: the Westernisation of Foreign Languages

as i have mentioned before, one thing that comes with learning about languages is learning about concepts that only exist in a certain language, which is a fascinating thing. and if you’re like me, you may want to use that very cool foreign word whenever you can.

this, however, can bring in the risk of appropriating the word. meaning, the word is taken by non native speakers to express something that may not be its original meaning, to the point it can get twisted beyond recognition. if you’ve read my posts about the issue with words like “yaoi” or “fujoshi” you probably know what i’m talking about by now, but those are only two examples, and there’s bigger issues than the words people use for the content they consume and create.

i spend a big part of my time on online spaces for japanese media, which means i have seen people adopt japanese terms as part of their language very often. it can be something as simple as saying “all acording to keikaku” (計画 (plan)) because of a meme, or calling triangles “sankaku” (三角) because a character from a japanese game loves triangles and they like saying it, or saying “nya” (にゃ) instead of “meow” just because. these cases are known as Gratuitous Japanese.
now, i’m not japanese, so take this with a grain of salt, but i think it’s mostly harmless. since the words in question do not have that much of a cultural or historical significance, the worst it can be in some cases it would be “being cringe”. but using these words can still be disrespect for the language, as some people would be using foreign words to “adorn” one’s speech (or writing). i don’t know what these people’s intentions are, so i’m not going to pretend i know, but in a lot of cases it can be interpreted as “this person doesn’t think language is an actual language but an accessory”. which, i’m sure you can see, is not something anyone should think about any language.

however, as i said, i don’t think sprinkling words of a different language in your speech isn’t inherently bad. not as long as all the languages used are respected.
and i say it isn’t inherently bad because, as a multilingual with many multilingual friends, i tend to speak in “spanglish” with my friends, and sometimes we add some french to the mix too. this is because we all know the three languages, and as i said at the start, you can only convey some ideas or feelings in certain languages, so we are simply using the tools we have to ensure communication.

now, going to the “next level” of appropriated words, we have a more “problematic” case: when westerners take a foreign word and disregard its meaning, choosing to claim the word has an inherently negative meaning. CW for subtle racism

this is the case of yaoi/yuri and fujoshi/fudanshi/fujin, as i have mentioned before.
but i want to bring up more examples, which i’ve seen very recently:

still sticking to japanese terms (because i’ve seen discourse on this particular word for the last couple days on twitter), we have the term “doujinsh” (同人誌). its literal translation means “self published print works”, but the meaning many westerners have given it is “R-18 comic or story”.
this is another word to add to the list of japanese words that westerners have sexualised, and therefore demonised, and while it’s not that big of a problem itself, it does reveal that a lot of non japanese speakers tend to associate japanese = s*xual and s*xual = bad
which is a big issue.

now, let’s see another example, one with a word that’s closer to me:
gringo / gringa.
i brought it up earlier, since it’s one of my favourite words. and as i said there, it means “foreigner”.
however, some (mostly white) people from the USA have started claiming that “gringo” is a slur we use against them, which is simply ridiculous (and quite self centered, if you ask me).
while i admit that, yes, it’s mostly used for people from the USA (who i refuse to call American because i, too, am from the continent “America”), and it is sometimes used with distaste, at worst, it can be compared to how, in english, we say “white people”. but even then, the word is not even used negatively a lot of times!
also, for a word to be a slur, it has to have a history of oppressing minorities THROUGH that word.
so no, it’s not even close to being a slur.

one last example of this:
people who don’t live in the Philippines pushing for the usage of Pinxy and Filipinx as a “gender neutral” version of the words Pinoy and Filipino, when those words are already gender neutral, acording to most filipinos, who are the ones who know and use their language.
again, take this with a grain of salt, as i’m not filipino and just explaining what my filipino friends have told me.
the issue here is people taking a gender neutral word and suddenly claiming it’s no longer gender neutral, just because it doesn’t adhere to western neutral standards, it’s people completely disregarding what filipinos have to say because it doesn’t fit their own western narrative. it’s both saying “i don’t care about what you think of your language and its rules” and implying they aren’t inclusive because they don’t adhere to western standards.
which is pretty sh*tty if you ask me.

these are not the worst examples, though, there are far worse things that come with westerners appropriating words
for example: appropriation and secularisation of words important to some religions and cultures

CW for disrespect of religious terms and ideas, specifically hinduism and buddhism (as well as the former CWs)
for example, we’ve got “karma”, “chakras” or “nirvana”
i don’t want to delve too much into this because i have absolutely zero authority to talk about these, but these words have been used so often that they’ve been stripped of their meaning, treated as something without much importance, when they are key elements of currently practiced religions.

Karma is a belief that the things that that you do in this life affect your next life, and a reason why people strive to do good things in life. while some people here throw it around almost like a vengeance thing, and bring up “good” or “bad” karma (when those don’t exist).

Chakras aren’t supposed to be aligned but destroyed in order to reach transcendance and get closer with certain deities. They essientially weigh you down and they don’t govern aspects of people’s being…The chakras are what hold you to the material world and key is to destroy them to become closer to the divine and their blessings. and yet, people throw “aligning chakras” when they refer to something as simple as being in a good mood.

Nirvana is a state of transcendence and the goal of Buddhism. but people often paint it like the Christian heaven, or use it as “cloud nine”.

here’s a doc (courtesy of @katabasis) full of appropriative terms, words and objects focusing on western spiritually and modern witchcraft

lastly, we have the most HORRENDOUS example of secularisation AND DEMONISATION of a religious symbol, done on purpose.

CW for Nazism, Nazi symbolism and equating religious symbols to hate symbols (as well as the former CWs)

yes, i’m talking about the Nazi symbol, which many of you may know as the “Swastika”.
I’m going to be 100% honest, just writing about this makes me want to cry because of how f*cked up some human beings can be, because a white man, when translating Hitler’s autobiography, translated the original name of his symbol (“Haken Kreuz” lit. “hooked cross”) to the same name of a symbol that means a lot to hinduism and buddhism.

for context, here’s the Swastika:

it looks familiar, i know
it looks like the symbol that represents a lot of pain and genocides
but the Swastika is a beautiful symbol
it means well being, it’s a good symbol

now a lot of people associate it with a hate symbol
to the point Japanese people have considered changing the symbols for some of their PLACES OF WORSHIP because of its possible associations, because most of us don’t know what the swastika means.

here’s a good article that explains how the world’s perspective on the swastika changed.

the thing is. there is no record whatsoever that Hitler or the Nazis called their symbol a swastika, they called it a “hooked cross”, like i said before.
it was James Murphy, the man who translated Mein Kampf, who chose to use the name of a religious symbol in place os a symbol of hatred, of genocide

THIS is the worst way a foreign word has been appropriated by the west, by English speakers. and we can’t let that keep happening, or happen again. which is why it’s so important to know where words come from.


Is there a difference?

there is
a very big one, actually

you should read the links i each word has attached if you wanna understand it better ^^

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Ok! I will do that. Thank you.

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Bro this is such an important topic and you covered it so well. I agree with the points you’ve made, it’s truly sad that many cultures are evaluated according to Western standards and the true meaning of words gets distorted. I understand deriving words from other words but using foreign words in incorrect contexts which leads to their meaning being distorted in the west truly saddens me.

I am not Native so please correct me if I am incorrect in any way, however, the use of “spirit animal” is also another form of linguistic form of cultural appropriation. When people make remarks such as “this person is my spirit animal” or assume all Native people have a ‘spirit animal’. Animals are highly symbolic in Native cultures and some political organisations and families are named after them. However, it is a stereotype that all Native people have a spirit animal. Although I am aware one person does not speak for the entire Native community, someone spoke about how she was not aware of a specific term in her language which translates to “spirit animal” as it is used colloquially. Some people have strong spiritual relationships with many more-than-human relatives rather than just one. The manner in which this term is used turns the concept of their sacred connection with and reverence for nature into a catchphrase and a commodity. In the article, Chelsea Luger stated that “it can feel very dehumanizing and disrespectful when something that is as storied and important as our clan systems is misinterpreted as this silly ‘spirit animal’ thing.”

Sadly, this isn’t the only form of linguistic-cultural appropriation linked to Native people but it is rather, one of the most prevalent.

There is also the issue with foreign words which are non-offensive sounding similar to slurs or other offensive words in English. When they hear the use of this word, some English monolinguals jump to the conclusion that someone is being a bigot or offensive when they are simply speaking in their native language.

CW for discussing racism, slurs

For example, 내가 (naega) is a Korean word meaning “I” is frequently misinterpreted as sounding like a well-known racist slur, when it is in fact not the same word. There is also the Indonesian word ‘ngga’ meaning ‘no’ or ‘nope’, which has been mistaken for sounding like that slur. It is the informal way of saying ‘tidak’. Indonesian has multiple ways of saying no; tidak, ngga, nggak, ga, g.

Westernisation can be really harmful as in some cases, such as the ones Cam mentioned, as it can dehumanise and invalidate non-Western cultures. If a culture’s values and beliefs does not adhere to the Western standard, that does not make it wrong. Of course, everyone has the right to criticise their own culture. However, attempting to change other societies to fit one’s ideal can be more harmful in the long run. It is like how many colonisers believe they were “helping” the countries they colonised, while many of us who have been colonised clearly view this differently. The world would truly be a boring place if we all adhered to one set of standards or expectations. Rather than trying to Westernise all cultures, we should be respectful of different cultures and celebrate the differences for there is a valuable lesson we can learn from people who walk a different path in life from us.


it can be truly devastating how some words are manipulated like this

it’s honestly so displeasing when people bring spirit animals as a funny, unimportant think or treat it as a joke, i hate that
and imo it really shows how far colonisation goes

honestly that’s really annoying and anglocentric?
other language exist and people have no right to tell people who speak other languages that they can’t use them


I know it’s not, I just feel uncomfortable when I hear it in K-pop.

It is truly devastating. Many words lose their true meaning and are often used in a negative context. Such as how people adopted the use of fujoshi to refer to problematic yaoi fans but haven’t really adopted many other Japanese terms.

Honestly, some people believe that English is the only language in the world or the only one that is valid. That is not the case, many people cannot speak English. While I enjoy being able to share a common language that allows me to connect to others, we should not expect every country to learn English because it’s not the only language that matters. For example, many foreigners go to France expecting locals to speak English. Many French people do not want to learn English that’s not to speak for every French person. Why would you go to another country and expect them to meet your expectations? Yeah tourism is good for the economy and whatnot but please, that’s so entitled.

Sorry I don’t really understand why because it simply means ‘I’. Some Korean songs have English lyrics but when it is used in Korean it is used in a Korean-only sentence/line so there is no reason to associate it with the English slur. I understand the phonetics are similar but there I can’t comprehend why it is uncomfortable when used in Korean phrase. I also know words in other languages that may sound like inappropriate words in some languages but being aware of the meaning helps avoid unnecessary misconceptions or discomfort. And honestly one should consider how people feel being told that a common, everyday word in their language is ‘offensive’.


Honestly, I don’t know why I’m uncomfortable. I guess it just sounds like the English word. I probably should just keep quiet.

or they will refer to other languages as savage or lesser than english and bro that’s so enraging

English wasn’t the first language ever, if anything it’s a (messy) mix of many other languages so why should other languages respond to English rules?

dude honestly, why are tourists like that
like go to another country and demand they accommodate to YOU in particular? how selfish is that?

look, i’m sorry, but i’m going to be blunt: right now you’re giving the perfect example of the people who expect us to accommodate to English while disregarding any other language that exists.


If you feel so uncomfortable over a foreign everyday word with no connection to the English slur, imagine how they feel when foreigners tell them to stop using a word in their own language because it sounds too similar to another word in another language so removed from theirs. Many Korean people don’t speak English or are familiar with any historical context behind the word so there is no need to make that association.

Exactly! There was this horrible misconception in my secondary school that people who were not fluent in English were ‘stupid’ all because we were a privileged British high school. Like no, many fascinating concepts and theories that revolutionised societies and reshaped our views of the world were discovered or conceptualised by non-English speakers!

LMFAO exactly, imagine going into someone else’s country and having so much audacity. If you can’t respect their society and culture, don’t visit. The nerve of people…


Oh Jesus.

Alright. You’re absolutely right. Oh my god.

bro i’m so sorry that sounds so gross
i don’t get why people think that when people who have broken english are most likely to know another whole language better?
and i swear it’s always monolinguals who say things like that
like people are already making an effort to learn an entire language? and they (we :’ )) get mocked for it? i hate that so much
same with accents

bro i see so many tourists around my uni DEMANDING that we speak their language and i’m like… why

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Yeah it’s really sad >: I understand they may not be able to communicate with them but don’t assume the language barrier is an inference/measure of their intelligence or capabilities as a person.

DUDE EXACTLY, people made fun of my best friend a lot for her accident. She’s Indian and English was her third language out of FIVE. She made a few errors but she was still fluent. People make fun of Indian accents a lot sadly. My friends and I would make fun of ourselves when we’d trip up on pronunciations but we were only okay with each other doing that not having random people pick on us for our English. My best friend doesn’t like to speak Malay in front of any of us, even though he is fluent (it’s his first language I think), because people made fun of him at his old school for doing so.

EXACTLY! I try to help tourists if I can but don’t expect every local to be privileged enough to receive an education that enforces learning English. Where I am from we can consider it a privilege to learn English fluently even though more and more schools are enforcing it now.

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I think you’re doing fine.

like if it was
wouldn’t it go both ways?
would it mean all english speaking monolinguals are dumb then?

brooo your friend sounds so cool!
and i’m sorry they’ve bee through that, it’s so nonsensical of people to do that

yeah, same here, but tbh i sometimes don’t have the patience to help tourists around bc you can tell they don’t actually respect your country (you can tell some didn’t even bother to research the temperature of my city bc they come here dressed like they’re gonna go to a jungle)

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Exactly. The number of languages you speak has nothing to do with intelligence.

yes and no
linguistic intelligence is a thing
and learning new languages helps the brain develop more synapses

but not knowing one language doesn’t make one inherently dumb