I was stalking a forum looking for images to nab to use as wallpapers, and there was a post where posters were claiming characters as their "waifu".

Seeing how it is spelled, I would assume that what they mean is "wife"; however, it seems weird to use the term "waifu" rather than the normal Japanese term for wife (my understanding is that it's "Tsuma" (妻); however, I could be wrong).

So, where did the term "waifu" come from? If I am wrong, and "waifu" isn't what I think it is, could someone explain what it is and where it came from?

  • Obligatory – Madara Uchiha Aug 12 '13 at 16:37
  • Waifu is a term for a fictional charcater one considers a soulmate. – user3381 Jan 17 '14 at 14:03
up vote 61 down vote accepted

Origin

The prevailing wisdom1 is that the term "waifu" originates from a scene from the 2002 anime Azumanga Daioh; specifically, this scene from episode 15.

Some context: the male character in that scene, Mr. Kimura, is a teacher at the school the female characters in that scene attend. Mr. Kimura has a well-deserved reputation for being generally perverse and possibly a pedophile.

A rough translation of the scene follows:

TAKINO Tomo: What's this? A picture of a woman?

KASUGA Ayumu: Wow, she's beautiful.

TAKINO Tomo: Who is she?

KIMURA: My wife.

All: That can't be!

The astute listener will observe that Kimura uses the English words "my wife", rather than a Japanese translation thereof (such as 妻2 tsuma). When the words "my wife" are adapted to conform to Japanese phonological constraints (e.g. no terminal /f/), and then re-expressed in a Japanese syllabary (hiragana/katakana), the result is マイワイフ. Finally, when we romanize マイワイフ, we get "mai waifu".

Usage

The below graph shows that usage of "waifu" on the internet was effectively negligible until early 2007. This seems to suggest that "waifu" did not become memetic until some time after Azumanga Daioh aired.

Google Trends graph for "waifu", 2004 to 2013-08-11

There is evidence from the Animesuki forums that "waifu" (in fact, "mai waifu") was being used in its modern sense (rather than the literal standard-English "woman one is married to" sense) by May 2006. Interestingly, this appears to precede the rise in searches for "waifu" on Google Trends. I'm not sure what this means, but it probably means something.

Husbandos

There is also a male counterpart to "waifu": husbando. Unlike "waifu", "husbando" is not derived from Japanese3. Rather, it was developed by analogy, as an idealization of how a Japanese speaker might pronounce the word "husband". A "husbando" is basically the same thing as a "waifu", except male rather than female.

The earliest citation I've found for "husbando" is from October 2007 (again, on Animesuki). With some internet archaeology, I suspect it should be possible to show that usage of "husbando" began as much as a year prior to this citation.


Notes

1 I say that this is the prevailing wisdom, because I have no evidence that "waifu" was not used prior to 2002.

2 The Japanese equivalent of "mai waifu", in terms of usage among otaku and memeticity and so forth, is actually 俺の嫁 ("ore no yome", lit. "my bride").

3 ハズバンド hazubando exists, but I'm almost certain this didn't directly give rise to English "husbando". At most, it may have been an inspiration.

  • Not sure how relevant this is, but if you look at the Google trend chart for ワイフ, its search usage peaked in late 2004 (but Google's data only goes back to 2004 unfortunately) – atlantiza Aug 12 '13 at 13:45
  • @atlantiza I doubt that's related - ワイフ is used as a synonym for "wife" in Japanese (albeit not as often as non-borrowed words like 妻, 家内, etc.). Plus, Google Trends for マイワイフ shows essentially negligible searches relative to the total volume of ワイフ searches. – senshin Aug 12 '13 at 19:46

The word waifu (ワイフ) is an "Engrish" term for "wife". It is likely the preferred term for "wife" among English-speaking otaku because of its auditory similarity to the English term and its phonetic similarity to Japanese.

Its origin is likely from a dialog by an Azumanga Daioh character named Mr. Kimura. When a pair of characters picks up a dropped photo, and he is asked who is in the photo, he responds (very creepily), "mai waifu" ("my wife"). (YouTube)

At this point, the term is mostly used by otaku subculture (particularly males) as a reference to a favorite female character (usually to the extreme). There is a male equivalent, husbando; however, this term is far less common.

Further reading
   •  ワイフ - Denshi Jisho
   •  KnowYourMeme - Waifu (May be NSFW)
   •  Wikipedia - Mr. Kimura

OK, here's the deal short and sweet, all that technical babel is just that. jargon.

I'm a dual citizen Japanese and American. I speak both languages. The term "waifu" is "wife" in the English language on both sides. Meaning, when Japanese people speak, we put a vowel at the end of our words almost all the time. So when learning to speak English , it's natural to add a vowel at the end of what we are trying to say in English. Ergo: "Wife", comes out to sound like "waifu" when speaking English.

The actual Japanese word for "wife" depending on who you are speaking to is "tsuma". As far as why its usage is so popular, who knows. It just got popular because of how we speak with our accent. And for the record, there are many more words in English like this, that are not in any way shape or form uses in the Japanese language because it's an English translation.

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