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Jap is an English abbreviation of the word "Japanese." Today it is generally regarded as an ethnic slur among Japanese minority populations in other countries, although English-speaking countries differ in the degree to which they consider the term offensive. In the United States, Japanese Americans have come to find the term controversial or offensive, even when used as an abbreviation. In the past, Jap was not considered primarily offensive; however, during and after the events of World War II, the term became derogatory.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "Jap" as an abbreviation for "Japanese" was in colloquial use in London around 1880. An example of benign usage was the previous naming of Boondocks Road in Jefferson County, Texas, originally named "Jap Road" when it was built in 1905 to honor a popular local rice farmer from Japan.
Later popularized during World War II to describe those of Japanese descent, "Jap" was then commonly used in newspaper headlines to refer to the Japanese and Imperial Japan. "Jap" became a derogatory term during the war, more so than "Nip." Veteran and author Paul Fussell explains the usefulness of the word during the war for creating effective propaganda by saying that "Japs" "was a brisk monosyllable handy for slogans like 'Rap the Jap' or 'Let's Blast the Jap Clean Off the Map.'" Some in the United States Marine Corps tried to combine the word "Japs" with "apes" to create a new description, "Japes", for the Japanese; this neologism never became popular.
In the United States the term is now considered derogatory; the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary notes it is "usually disparaging". A snack food company in Chicago named Japps Foods (for the company founder) changed their name and eponymous potato chip brand to Jays Foods shortly after Pearl Harbor to avoid any negative associations with the name.
In Texas, under pressure from civil rights groups, Jefferson County commissioners in 2004 decided to drop the name "Jap Road" from a 4.3-mile (6.9 km) road near the city of Beaumont. Also in adjacent Orange County, "Jap Lane" has also been targeted by civil rights groups. The road was originally named for the contributions of Kichimatsu Kishi and the farming colony he founded. And in Arizona, the state department of transportation renamed "Jap Road" near Topock, Arizona to "Bonzai Slough Road" to note the presence of Japanese agricultural workers and family-owned farms along the Colorado River there in the early 20th century.
In 2003, the Japanese deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Yoshiyuki Motomura, protested the North Korean ambassador's use of the term in retaliation for a Japanese diplomat's use of the term "North Korea" instead of the official name, "Democratic People's Republic of Korea".
In 2011, following the term's offhand use in a March 26 article appearing in The Spectator ("white-coated Jap bloke"), the Minister of the Japanese Embassy in London protested that "most Japanese people find the word 'Jap' offensive, irrespective of the circumstances in which it is used." In Japan the word is not popularly known, used, or referenced since Japanese are the majority of the population and there is no setting to create distinctions.
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