Apart from the usual -ese ending words denoting a person/people, which is not usually accepted as natural, 'non-***ese,' --- would it be more accepted? Is this because the writer himeslf is a non-Japanese person and would not mind, maybe, sounding derogatory?

I found this example: If you’re a conspicuous non-Japanese living here who rides the trains or buses, or goes to cafes or anywhere in public where Japanese people have the choice of sitting beside you or sitting elsewhere, then you’ve likely experienced the empty-seat phenomenon with varying frequency and intensity.

  • I live in Japan (foreigner). Virtually all foreigners experience "empty seat" IRT article.(this example). Explore "Expectations Violations Theory" Just like on the train, Japanese & Foreigners are expecting completely different things. Has nothing to do w/attaching "ese" to Japan to create Japanese. See comment below.
    – user90322
    Feb 24, 2019 at 8:27

2 Answers 2


Properly "-ese" words should only be used as adjectives, unless they refer to groups of people. And even then the use is questionable.

Japanese learners of English tend to translate "Nihonjin" as "A Japanese". This is traditionally incorrect. It is better to say "A Japanese person". It is derogatory only when you assume that all Japanese people are the same. That is a separate issue from the grammar.

The trouble is that there is no convenient demonym for a single Japanese person, and so the adjective gets used as a noun. Languages change.

It would be possible to use "non-Japanese person" or "person who isn't Japanese" But the placement of the adjective "conspicuous" becomes slightly difficult. We don't mean "A conspicuous person, who isn't Japanese", and "a person who is conspicuously non-Japanese" is getting too long and also not quite the same meaning.

The author could have rephrased, to avoid the use of "non-Japanese" as a noun, but chose the easy solution, using the now fairly common use of Japanese as a noun. We understand the meaning, but it is not excellent writing.

  • Hi, James. This must be it. The author must have had a dilemma in finding the best describtion to no avail.
    – Sssamy
    Feb 25, 2019 at 11:37

Why the "ese" suffix is added from a cultural/historic is etymology concentric. It is best to check reliable etymology dictionaries to trace the history of English word origin, including English prefixes or suffixes.

The correct term for "ese" is "suffix."

From -ese word-forming element, from Old French -eis (Modern French -ois, -ais), from Vulgar Latin, from Latin -ensem, -ensis "belonging to" or "originating in."

Source: https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=ese

There are other suffixes here:

-ian (Italian, Norwegian)
-ean (Chilean, Korean)
-an (American, Mexican)
-ese (Chinese, Japanese)
-er (Icelander, New Zealander)
-ic (Icelandic, Greenlandic)
-ish (English, Irish)
-i (Iraqi, Pakistani)

It's possible you glean and confuse negative connotation for the suffix "ese" and misapply a historical, Latin or French "ese" [originating from Japan = Japanese, originating from China = Chinese; Vietnam = Vietnamese, etc., with Oxford Dictionary below on "ese" definition?

Definition of -ese suffix from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary

 -ese suffix

(in adjectives and nouns) of a country or city; a person who lives in a country or city; the language spoken there Chinese Viennese

(in nouns) (often disapproving) the style or language of journalese officialese

Separate a centuries old etymology on the origin of suffixes from peoples of today using "ese" to denote something "disapproving," like many English speakers create their own slang using "ese" as if they are some kind of "otaku" in something (I live in Japan - 1970 to Present, but I am originally from the States.

"I speak ski ese" (which makes it sound like I not only ski, I eat, sleep, breathe every waking moment skiing. It's considered slang creating words like this which I just did. Meaning is disapproving in that it is way, way more than any normal person who skis would do. The connotation is, it's so much so that its become another language that other people can't speak (haha, like the image of an "otaku" in Japan.

The etymology of "ese" meaning "origin" is separate. Separate from a current phenomenon of English speakers in some areas attaching the "ese" to adjectives and nouns that have negative connotation.

Hope this helps. Like the Oxford dictionary does, treat as separate.

  • Hi, Steve. Yes I'm aware of the current feel that the ese suffix give you. It's been distant, and has virtually nothing to do with centuries old etymology. Looking at the standalone non-Japanese, I thought that non-Japanese could be used without that connotation, or that provided describing yourself you could use that.
    – Sssamy
    Feb 25, 2019 at 11:35

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