"ese" suffix insulting/racist?

Thomas M. Paikeday t.paikeday at SYMPATICO.CA
Mon Apr 7 14:23:23 UTC 2003

----- Original Message -----
From: "Douglas G. Wilson" <douglas at NB.NET>
Sent: Sunday, April 06, 2003 1:27 PM
Subject: Re: "ese" suffix insulting/racist?

> >    The suffix -ese is neither racist nor insulting. But it *has*
> >become productive in English to indicate with mild humor something
> >that is incomprehensible, based on its presence in "Chinese,"
> >"Japanese."  There are many examples, but the only one that comes to
> >mind now is "Stengelese."
> I think of "bureaucratese" first. "X-ese" as a noun here = "language of
> The suffix "-ese" is apparently the English reflex of Latin genitive
> "-ensis", which is still used as a sort of default genitive in modern
> Latin. So for example the organism Nocardia beijingensis is the Nocardia
> "of Beijing", while Legionella pittsburghensis refers to the Legionella
> Pittsburgh", while Pseudomonas wisconsinensis is named after Wisconsin,
> etc. Similarly a University of Wisconsin seal might read "Universitatis
> Wisconsinensis Sigillum" = "Seal of the University of Wisconsin". So the
> long-term etymology does not support the "derogatory" thesis.
> Why is "-ese" more frequent in application to East Asia? There are
> "Portuguese", "Viennese", "Faroese", etc., in Europe, but there are many
> more "-eses" in Asia ("Shanghainese", "Pekinese", "Siamese", "Sundanese",
> "Singhalese", etc., etc.): is it because East Asians (along with persons
> from Vienna or the Faroes perhaps?) are/were despised? I would say no, it
> is because places far from the Roman Empire had no names in Latin and
> therefore no natural genitive endings, so they tend to take the 'default'
> ending "-ensis", thus "-ese" (with some obvious exceptions where a name
> looks like it could conform to another Latin paradigm, e.g.,
> "Korea"/"Korean"). Scotland was known to Rome, so a bacterium named after
> Scotland for example is Actinobacillus scotiae (NOT "scotlandensis" or
> whatever) using the established genitive ending for Scotia = Scotland.
> Neither Japan nor Wisconsin (nor Congo) was known to Rome, so their names
> lack declensions from classical Latin. [No doubt my perception is absurdly
> oversimplified, and perhaps I'm completely in error on some of my
> The place-names in many cases actually came through French and other
> Romance languages, I believe.]
> -- Doug Wilson

A very enjoyable discussion of the suffix. I'm reminded of "Goan/Goanese" of
which the -ese variant is considered insulting, or so I have heard.


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