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This question spawns from the comments here.

I've heard that オタク could or could not be derogatory. During the times I've been in Japan and heard it used, I didn't think that it had any connotation of being an insulting term, but is this true?

I'm not sure about other countries, but in America as a borrowed word, many people are proud to be called an "オタク" depending on the circumstance. Is it not the same in Japan?

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Do you consider "weirdo" or "nerd" derogatory? –  Earthliŋ Oct 1 '12 at 16:19
    
@user1205935 That is what I'm asking. I'm not Japanese, so I don't know how Japanese think about オタク. –  Chris Harris Oct 1 '12 at 18:03
    
That wasn't a rhetorical question. I was actually wondering what you consider derogatory and what not. The nuance is much like "nerd", I would say, but I'm not sure, whether that should be derogatory or not. X君は変わってるね is definitely not derogatory and has a broadly similar meaning. –  Earthliŋ Oct 1 '12 at 18:56
    
@user1205935 Oh I see. Well, I suppose it depends on the context. My presumption of it was exactly like the definition Teno posted. Which at first glance looks like a good thing, but there seems to be more to it. –  Chris Harris Oct 1 '12 at 19:06
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@user1205935: The question is, are nerd (or geek) in English, largely inoffensive now, further along on the insult treadmill than otaku in Japanese?. –  Mechanical snail Oct 1 '12 at 20:12
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2 Answers 2

Although I can imagine that オタク people may sometimes call themselves オタク proudly among themselves, I think that calling someone オタク is usually derogatory. The word has negative connotations such as “narrow interest,” “not caring about anything except for a specific topic,” and “not sociable.” See also Daijisen, sense [1]-5 and its remark.

As I understand it, the word nerd in English has roughly the same nuance.

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I think it depends on the person who gets offended by being called so.

According to 日本語俗語辞書 ( http://zokugo-dict.com/05o/otaku.htm ),

オタクとは、特定の分野に関して強い興味を抱き、関連するものを収集したり、詳しく知ることに時間を費やす人のこと。【年代】 1989年 

To translate it, 「オタク」 means a person who has an strong interest on a particular field and spend more time for knowing the subject or collecting the related goods.

In my opinion, 「オタク」 used to have a negative connotation. It meant "nerd" except that the person's expertise doesn't have to be computers but often Anime, Manga, video games, or anything subculture. The term often implied social impairment of the person.

The origin of the word is not clear even for Japanese. It is said that when otaku people talked each other, they used 「お宅」 to refer to the second person instead of saying "you". Or they are kind of people who barely goes out but stays home. (「宅」 means home.) Or a columnist, 中森明夫, used it for the first time in a Manga magazine called, 漫画ブリッコ in 1983 ( http://www.nikkoku.net/tomonokai/toukou_card.html?snum=148).

About for this decade I would say, it has been used more openly to describe the person's characteristics which is maniac/specialized on a particular field with a positive connotation. But the term still suggests that the person is being obsessed about something and not normal/crazy/ill and less social so it may offend somebody who want to be considered normal.

「秋葉系」「キモオタ」 should be the alternative words for pre-オタク. The link describes the typical 「秋葉系」 although it is exaggerating to make it funny for a TV show. http://matome.naver.jp/odai/2130699281942633401

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I wouldn't say that "nerd" is tied to computers. It seems to encompass all activities, which requires some kind of intellectual engagement, like programming, mathematics or just thick books. –  Earthliŋ Oct 1 '12 at 19:20
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According to thefreedictionary.com/nerd , the definition includes "a boring or unpopular person, esp one obsessed with something specified a computer nerd" –  Teno Oct 1 '12 at 19:47
    
I could be wrong, but I think that オタク is still more broad than "nerd", since it doesn't just apply to intellectual stuff, but can also be applied to people who like to collect things that others would consider mundane like stamps, rocks, movies,Kit Kat flavors, etc. –  Ataraxia Oct 2 '12 at 22:06
    
@phoenixheart6 I think that オタク is still more broad than "nerd" -- It's covered in the answer starting with "It meant "nerd" except" –  Teno Oct 2 '12 at 22:37
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