The word is borrowed into English from Japanese and is derived from the Japanese o (honorific) + taku (house, home). It was used in the 1980s as a second person singular pronoun among hobbyist photographers. As it gained familiarity, the word was soon used by others to refer to hobbyist photographers. Since the photographers were seen as socially unskillful, reclusive, and obsessed with their hobby, otaku picked up those negative connotations and eventually was used to refer to any reclusive, obsessive hobbyist. A common stereotype is the young male otaku who lives at home without a job, has few social contacts outside of his otaku friends, and may even be bordering on a dangerous stalker. Besides anime otaku (who sometimes enjoy many days of exessive anime watching with no rest) and manga otaku, Japanese culture has many other varieties, such as pasocon otaku (personal computer geeks), geimu otaku (playing video games) and otaku that are extreme fans of idols, heavily promoted singing girls. Otaku has stronger negative connotations in Japanese than it does in English, although it can be used either positively or negatively in either language.
In the Unites States, otaku often refers to connosieurs of anime, gourmets of Japanese animation, instead of the fanboy connotation found in Japan.
Otaku culture outside Japan often makes extensive use of Japanese loanwords. This can create an effect that is similar to Engrish, where the otaku will use Japanese phrases in conjunction with English. This usage is sometimes dubbed "Japanglish".
Anime and manga are two English words that were once solely otaku vocabulary, but have become common English. Before the term "anime" was adopted into English, they were simply called "cartoons" (e.g. Speed Racer).
Examples of loan words include:
- anime (now common English vocabulary)
- bishounen/bishoujo (collectively "bishies")
- manga (now common English vocabulary)