Foreign Keyword Fad

Posted by on December 1st, 2009 at 12:04 AM

Editorial update: I was high when I wrote “kamibashi.” It’s “kamishibai” as Xavier so graciously points out for me. Thanks.

LA Times blog Culture Monster pimps “Mang kamibashi Kamishibai: The Art of Japanese Paper Theater” (Abrams). Kamibashi is literally “paper theater” and is not just an antecedent but concurrent graphic medium to anime and manga.

I like how they explain how Eric Nash came across the word “kamibashiKamishibai” and ran with it. I read the word in Japanese all the time and don’t think to translate its etymology or do any research. Is there such a thing as a foreign keyword fad? The history of kamibashi seems interesting but these “foreign word phenomena” have turned into a kind of “foreign word phenomenology.” Carnets, gekiga…graphic novels… Origin-hunting these keywords gives them precedence. If there’s such a thing as a neologism I suppose there can be such a thing as a paleogism…

Ew, that sounds more like caveman sperm…

I predict in the next few years someone from The New Yorker will write a lengthy article about a new foreign keyword, critical mass will culminate on the blogosphere, a book about it will be published, then a book with an opposing definition will be published. I’m starting bets on the keyword: akabon.

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4 Responses to “Foreign Keyword Fad”

  1. As far as I know, “graphic novel” is a term that was coined in the States — though it’s been enjoying quite a success in France, with its translated version (“romans graphiques”).

    Kamishibai, akahon — those are technical/historical terms for manga (like gekiga, jidageki, dôjinshi and the like) and they correspond to concepts (and often formats) that usually do not exist in the West.

    This fascination for foreign words has largely to do, in my opinion, with the negative associations that are attached to the more pedestrian “comic books”: super-hero fare for teenagers lacking social skills, to be only slightly caricatural. If you don’t want to be associated with that (because what you are publishing is indeed different) and/or want to avoid facing preconceived ideas about your work, you’d better find another way to label it. And foreign words bring so much of a “high art” touch to it, don’t you think?

    Hence the “graphic novel” appellation (with the nod to literature, another “high art”). Which, over the years, has established itself as another valid format (from an economical point of view), leading to numerous publishers entering what had become a de facto market segment.
    I’m not saying that everything is governed by market success (some terms are indeed grounded in the specific history of the medium), but it’s usually the marketability of the term that ensures its wide use.

    • Anne Ishii says:

      Not sure if you’re trying to educate me or corroborate my points, but thanks either way, Xavier. My transliterations are sometimes off (inre: Ax v. Axe), but I believe it’s because I read so much in the original language. Rest assured Japanese is half of my first language (English being the other half and French technically being a third). So please go easy on second-guessing my socio-linguistics as it’s pretty much the only thing that I live for. That, the five illegitimate children I keep praying will write me one day, and the quart of ice cream I eat with the lights off in the bathroom every morning.

      • My previous comment was intended as corroboration and further reflexion on the dynamics at work there.

        (and considering your last name, I sort of expected you to have some Japanese ancestry, and my own grasp of the language is far too unsatisfying to let me take any high ground on the matter — except for correcting obvious types)

  2. Bill Randall says:

    Anne, glad to see you writing here. Can we all accept this as another “kamibashi?”