Taiwan: Is “adogah” a racist term?

Adogah (阿兜仔) is a Hoklo Taiwanese word used to refer to foreigners in Taiwan. Dan Bloom had an article in the Taipei Times discussing the use of the word. He had the article translated into Chinese on his blog. Following the Chinese text there are details in English of a recent survey of Taiwanese people about their attitude to the use of adogah.


  • David,
    Thanks for posting this note and the poll info, which was very interesting, I thought. My long article in the Taipei Times appeared in the Liberty Times on July 8, in Chinese translation by Shirley Tu, a friend in Taipei (thanks, Shirley!) but the 1500 character letter to the editor for the Liberty Times had to be cut to 700 characters for space, they only allow a maximum of 800 characters, so much of the original article’s quotes from the two professors in Taiwan and the editor in New Jersey had to be cut, and I felt their comments were the main part of the story.

    There seems to be some confusion on Michael Turton’s part that I said that the word adoah is racist, as far I can tell, I never said that myself, I never use the word racism lightly, and I would never say that the word adoah is racist, I need to ask Michael where he read that I said or wrote that. All I was doing in that TT article and in today’s LT letter to the editor (which by the way has gotten over 100 spirited — and sometimes ANGRY comments on my blog from Taiwanese readers in Chinese, Taiwanese and English, go take a look, it’s very interesting, and I am glad to get all the feedback from Taiwanese readers, that was my goal in all this, to learn from them what adoah really means, and boy, I am being learned. They be learning me! It’s good.

    Jason Cox said he felt the word adoah was racist in one of his comments on my blog. I never heard the word as racist, I don’t think the Taiwanese are racists. I just feel that the word adoah, while cute and charming and affectionate and intimate and warm and cuddly and embedded as it is in Taiwanese culture, is a bit, what is the word, bad-sounding, ill-sounding, to some foreigners’ ears, especially when said behind our backs or on TV or in the newspapers even. The word itself is NOT bad, and when used it usually has no ill intentions, I am quite sure, and now I am very sure — read the comments on my blog, see link, but the word ADOAH does have a history here, and it is not always used in a warm and cuddly way. But to the speakers of the word, the Taiwanese themselves, it is a funny and comic word to describe….us! My point in the TT article and now the LT letter was merely to say maybe the word when HEARD by SOME foreigners, NOT ALL, does not sound so good when HEARD since we know the meaning of the word. More and more Taiwnese are beginning to understand that the word ADOAH is not so PC anymore in 2009. In 1970, sure, the word made sense and was fittin. but now?

    What’s your take on the term? Ever heard it? In what situations? You like it? You prefer to be called by another term? I will ask Professor Turton, too. Beacuse I think he thinks i said the word is racist. It is NOT racist. I never said that. I just think the word ought to be retired from the airwaves and the public prints and maybe even from the local vocabulary. But that’s up to the Taiwanese to decide, not me. I would never suggest deleting a word from their own language. That’s up to newspaper editors and TV show directors to decide. I am just an observer here.

    Your take on all this? And of course, it’s a minor minor issue. Just interesting from a language POV. —


  • David
    Just a note, so as not to cause confusion among readers. Now i see why MT might have thought i said ADOAH is a racist term. Because your blog post is titled “Taiwan: Is “adogah” a racist term?” But the Taipei Times article did not carry that title, and i never used that word, as far as I can remember. Maybe change the titled to “Is Adoah an insenstive term?


    up to you. But maybe that is where Michael’s confusion came from……i wish he had asked me first. sMILE



  • And here is some interesting polling info on the adoah term:

    Editor’s note: Readers may remember an article that freelance
    reporter Dan Bloom
    wrote for the Taipei Times on May 19, 2009, which has been translated
    above. After the article appeared, a poll was taken by a local
    marketing firm in Taipei based on the article, and the results are, if
    not conclusive, nevertheless very interesting.

    The online poll was conducted by a TNS Taiwan, a Taipei marketing
    firm, from May 22 to May 24, with about 25,000 Taiwanese people
    participating, and with several
    questions being asked.

    When those polled were asked “Do you use the term ‘adoah’ to refer to
    the results were as follows: 45% said
    they do use the
    term while 55% said they do not use the term.

    When people were asked “If you learned that this term of adoah was considered
    offensive by some Westerners living in Taiwan, would you
    stop using it?” the results were as follows:

    93% said they would no
    longer use the word “adoah” while 7% said they would continue to use

    In the poll, the total sample
    size was 25,276 respondents, distributed in terms of age and gender
    proportionately to the general population, with ages ranging from 13
    to 64, according to the polling firm.

  • Michael fixed his blog now. I am no longer accused of calling adoah a racist term. Whew!

  • Thanks for your comments Dan. I wrote the heading “Is adogah a racist term?” as a question, not a statement. It seems some people have read too much into that. I just hope people will read your article and think more about the issue. It has certainly promoted some discussion.

    As for my opinion, I don’t hear the word used that much in Taipei. I feel use of this word is inappropriate in Taiwan today though. Whether the term is racist depends on how you define racism. It seems a lot of people seem reluctant to apply the word racist here, but I believe that it does fit within the definition of racism.

  • Chris

    Isn’t it 阿啄仔?

    兜 is “tau” in Taiwanese, so it would be a-tau-a.
    啄 is “tok” in Taiwanese, making it a-tok-a, hence the origin of the g-like sound in “adogah”.

    The online Taiwanese dictionary seems to support this:

  • 請別叫我「阿凸仔」!

    ◎ “Biko Lang” (pen name)

    大多數的台灣人認為 :「阿凸仔」這個稱呼外國人的暱稱是熱情且友善的。但許多住在台灣工作的西方人卻認為,那是一個侮辱和不尊敬的詞句,不應該出現在公眾場合,電視節目和廣告應該要禁止使用這三個字。你同意嗎?





  • Dan BLoom

    Chris, I meant to point out that the Liberty Times newspapers uses still another way to write ADOAH in Chinese characters for the Taiwanese word:

    So we now have:
    1. 阿凸仔
    2. 阿兜仔
    3. 阿啄仔

    Which one is correct? BUSASA on my part. I dunno.

  • Dan BLoom

    could this be true, maybe?


    A Taiwanese newspaper editor says:

    “I think it’s a misunderstanding about adoah meaning big nose or tall nose. “Atoah” means 阿督仔 that is because
    when foreigners fisrt came to Taiwan.Most of them are priests or
    信基督.So they are called “atoah”. Because similar pronounciation,
    “atoah” transforms to “big nose.” The definitions of “atoah” not
    necessarily bad. …”


    ”According to what I have heard and had verified by several Taiwanese, A-dok-a originally meant something like Christian or missionary (阿督仔, 督 as in 基督教, Christianity) because most white faces around used to be missionaries. It is a homophone to “pointed nose” or however you prefer to translate it and has now taken on that meaning as there are fewer and fewer missionaries around.”

  • Dan Bloom

    A Taiwanese friend tells me now: re above

    “I don’t think so.

    Actually, Taiwanese people can’t really tell the difference between Catholicism and Christian religion. They both called them “麵粉教” (flour religion) in early time, because the church gave relief such as flour, milk powder or clothes to people since Taiwanese were poor at that time.

    I don’t think people would use such a formal term “基督” as spoken language.”

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