By user240918

2016-04-26 09:40:50 8 Comments

I was looking for a term to define the eyes shape of oriental people and I discovered that the term slant-eye is a derogatory one:

  • (offensive) a person with slanting eyes; especially , one of Asian ancestry


I checked its etymology and found that :

  • Derogatory slang sense of "a slant-eyed Asian person" is recorded from 1943, from earlier slant-eyes (1929).


It seems that it was a neutral term at first but it became derogatory later. Is it so? What made the term sound offensive?

What alternative neutral expression can I use instead of "slanting eyes?


@kandyman 2019-04-26 11:32:56

I agree with @Spehro Pefhany that the safest term these days is "epicanthic fold". It is very unlikely to cause offense.

However, I would add that technically speaking, the epicanthic fold is not necessarily present in all Asian races. There are many who have the 'slanting' [sic] eye shape but who do not have the epicanthic fold. I agree that it is a more useful term than most others which can be construed as pejorative. But strictly speaking, an Asian person might not have the epicanthic fold and a Causasian person could have it, for example. Just something to note if you decide to use this term.

I wonder if the terms 'elongated eye shape' or 'oval eye shape' might be viable alternatives.

@Joe 2016-04-26 13:30:49

If you're solely discussing shape, I've seen them referred to as almond-shaped eyes, but I have no idea if this might be considered offensive to people who aren't round-eyed.

@Spehro Pefhany 2016-04-26 10:38:50

If, for some reason, you need to refer to the eye shape of a person with Asian heritage (or with similar eye shape), you can refer to the epicanthic fold. Less technical, but slightly riskier: almond eyes.

Current style is to avoid references to race, skin colour and such like in most situations. If you have to point out the one Chinese-American in room full of Swedish-Americans you might have to refer to the lady with the green shoes or something like that, and 'person' would be safer than 'lady'.

Terms such as "slant-eyed" and "mongoloid" are almost always very offensive.

@cat 2016-04-26 14:33:39

almond eyes is arguably more offensive than slant-eyes

@Peter Cordes 2016-04-26 14:37:53

@cat: It depends on the context. If you describe someone as having "beautiful almond eyes", it's clear you mean it positively. AFAIK, the phrase itself isn't inherently offensive, the issue is that people might wonder why you bring it up at all and think it's weird to focus on racially-different physical features. (I'm not Asian, so don't take my word for this.)

@pipe 2016-04-26 15:02:31

Heh, I'd like to see the Asian who would be offended by using the expression Asian to differentiate someone in a room full of Swedes.

@Janus Bahs Jacquet 2016-04-26 16:52:35

@cat Could you give the argument for that? I’ve only ever heard almond eyes used as a clearly positive term, and I myself consider it quite a lovely (and fitting, even if not actually physiognomically accurate) description. Slant-eyes, on the other hand, I have only heard as an offensive term. Saying that almond eyes is the more offensive sounds to me like saying that calling very light skin milky is more offensive than calling it pasty.

@Spehro Pefhany 2016-04-26 17:00:32

I don't see 'almond' as being a negative term, as @Janus says, however there is always the possibility that someone will take offense even at a positive term. I might not be safe addressing a co-worker as "me buxom beauty", even on talk like a pirate day. I have been referred to as "big nose" by folks on the street in China, and probably worse in Japan. No big deal.

@Michael J. 2016-04-26 17:09:08

If asked, for example, "Who's in charge here?", and the individual happens to be female, why on earth would it be "safer" to refer to her as a 'person' instead of a 'lady'?

@Cat'r'pillar 2016-04-26 18:09:47

I think the potential problem with "almond eyes" is not that it's inherently offensive but often used in a similar way as "chocolate-skinned" i.e. when fetishizing a race. Can be taken slightly negatively depending on context... but deserving of an eye-roll at worst.

@Spehro Pefhany 2016-04-26 18:34:55

@MichaelJ. Even 'person' may be unsafe, given that some folks apparently identify as parrots, dragons or cats.

@cat 2016-04-26 18:46:04

@Cat'r'pillar That's kinda where I was going with that, Iunno.

@Michael J. 2016-04-26 19:05:04

@Spehro Pefhany If the individual identifies themselves as a female dragon, can I then refer to them as "That dragon lady over there"?

@hatchet 2016-04-26 22:41:48

These comments are the first time I've heard "almond eyes" is used as a way to refer eyes of a particular race. Results of a search on that term in Google Images doesn't doesn't seem to be predominantly any particular race, nor do the images imply a negative connotation.

@Elian 2016-04-26 10:02:43

You might consider, have Asian eyes

@user240918 2016-04-26 10:04:36

Thanks, what does "brides" literally means? Is it offensive in French?

@Elian 2016-04-26 10:10:48

@Saturana It means "slanting" and is not considered to be particularly offensive.é Alternately, how about "sloe-eyed" and "almond-eyed"?

@bejonsson 2016-04-26 12:51:24

This may be acceptable for informal situations, but it's vague and not helpful in general. If you are using this to describe an Asian person then it's redundant. If you are using this to describe a non-Asian person then it's confusing. A precise term would be more useful.

@Jake 2016-04-26 17:30:53

Why did you link to the French version of the site?

@Elian 2016-04-26 17:54:18

@Jake Because the expression is not found in the English one.

@Jake 2016-04-26 17:57:54

Which makes it a poor source for the English Language & Usage StackExchange site, no?

@SGR 2016-04-26 09:46:52

It's offensive because it was used a derogatory term from the start, much in the same way that the N-word is offensive to Black people. On the surface the N-word is simply a word to describe a Black person, but because of its historical use it is extremely offensive.

The typical way to describe someone who has those characteristics is to simply use their country or region of origin. For example, 'That man is Asian' or 'That man is Vietnamese', etc.

Or, better yet, don't just generalize a person based on their physical appearance and actually ask the person where they come from. For example, an American with Chinese parents would display those characteristics but be an American.

@user240918 2016-04-26 10:00:15

Thanks, so you mean that I should avoid referring to their eyes shape because for some reason it is offensive.

@SGR 2016-04-26 10:01:23

@Saturana exactly.

@MSalters 2016-04-26 15:00:41

Of course, you absolutely have to know that using the country of origin will not cause any issues either. That is to say, you have to know the correct country, know that the person described does not object to the reference, nor does the audience. And it's a big region with enough sensitivities. Certainly don't do this with second-generation immigrants who are integrated into their new country.

@Janus Bahs Jacquet 2016-04-26 16:46:44

You’re assuming here that the asker is wanting to describe or identify a person by the shape of their eyes, which is not necessarily true. There are other reasons for discussing eye shape—doing so can be the end goal in itself, for example.

@AbraCadaver 2016-04-26 17:26:55

Also, if you see someone committing a crime, do NOT, I repeat do NOT let anyone know their skin tone, hair color, assumed race or gender. Stick to height, shirt color, long or short pants and shoe type.

@SGR 2016-04-27 07:10:10

@AbraCadaver For gods sake, strawman much? Obviously, if you're reporting a crime then giving as accurate a description as possible is helpful. At the same time 'He looked Asian' would be much better than 'He had slanty eyes'. Much in the same way you'd say 'He was black' rather than 'He was a n*****'.

@AbraCadaver 2016-04-27 20:42:40

@SGR: Have you watched or listened to the news recently? Codewords, "teens", "youths", other times just "man". At least in the U.S.

@Andrew Grimm 2016-04-26 09:46:07

"Slant eye" would mean a person with slanting eyes, and you'd be describing the person, not their eyes.

@user240918 2016-04-26 09:58:29

Thanks, but if I say that a person has slanting eyes, does it sound offensive?

@Andrew Grimm 2016-04-26 10:09:35

@Saturana it sounds offensive to me, but some additional context of how and why you're using it may be useful.

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