Are you an adoah? And do you like being called adoah by friends, co-workers or complete strangers on the street? And maybe even by your wife or husband?
Whatever your feelings about this colorful and humorous Taiwanese slang word for “foreigner,” read the following with a sense of humor.
Although the term is used to mean a “foreigner,” it is mainly used to refer to Westerners. Japanese are never called adoah, nor are Indonesians, Indians, Vietnamese or Filipinos.
While many Taiwanese academics and politicians have been critical of Kuo Kuan-ying (郭冠英), a former government press officer in Toronto who was fired for using such words as taibazi (台巴子,Taiwanese rednecks) and wokou (倭寇, Japanese pirates) in blog posts written under a pen name, most Taiwanese still feel it is okay to use the word adoah to describe Westerners.
But some people feel that the word adoah rankles and should be avoided in public and forbidden on the airwaves.
Over the last few years, a few expat Internet forums have discussed the expression, with both supportive and scornful reviews and plenty of humorous rejoinders.
One popular opinion is that the expression means “prominent nose” and comes from an old Taiwanese term — dok-dok — meaning “prominent” or “high” when describing noses.
Most Taiwanese say the term is not a slur or an insult, but more of a compliment than anything else, although delivered with a dollop of humor.
Some expats feel that while 60 years ago adoah might have been a humorous and friendly word for Westerners with a “high” nose bridge, people, especially TV hosts such as Jacky Wu (吳宗憲) who use the term on TV shows with abandon, should drop the word.
Chen Chun-kai (陳君愷), a professor of history at Fujen Catholic University, said in an e-mail: “Although most Taiwanese truly think adoah is a humorous word, if most Western foreigners in Taiwan hate that word ... then that word is no doubt a bad word and should not be used anymore by our people.”
Chen added: “Confucius said: ‘Do not do unto others what you would not want others to do unto you.’ So if we Taiwanese don’t like to hear Mainlanders calling us taibazi, then Taiwanese should stop using that word adoah in reference to Westerners. There is no need to keep using the word adoah anymore, if those who hear the word don’t like it.”
“We Taiwanese are still crippled by a long history of linguistic and ethnic slurs, even now. We need to fight for our freedom and establish a new nation with justice. If we can achieve this, I believe that we will also learn more from people in other countries,” Chen said.
Another professor, Chi Chun-chieh (紀駿傑), who teaches in the Department of Indigenous Cultures at National Dong Hwa University, said by e-mail: “I must admit that I never thought that adoah was a bad or negative term, and I am sure that people here use it as merely a humorous word and not in any negative sense at all.”
“However, and this is important, this common usage does not mean that adoah is a good term, even though it is not used in a negative or pejorative way,” Chi said.
“The most important thing about language when it is used to refer to different national or ethnic or racial groups are the subjective feelings of people being addressed,” Chi said.
“In terms of the word adoah as it is used to speak about or address Westerners in Taiwan ... the shape of a person’s nose is not relevant compared to his or her more important personal characteristics,” he said.