09 September 2006


Votemom asked about the term, "ex-pat". (I think she sensed from the last few entries that I needed a little direction. ;>)

The first reported use of this term is noted in 1768. The French word expatrier
meaning "banish" is from the Latin roots ex- meaning "out of" and patrie meaning "native land". It is interesting (you all know I'm both a word nerd and a history buff, so calling this "interesting" should not surprise anyone) to note the change in connotation over the years. When first introduced, it had a decidedly negative connotation. Traitors were expatriated--relieved of their citizenship and banished from their homelands. They were exiles.

Slowly the word changed. In 1818, it was used to mean "one who moves abroad" without the taint of traitordom.

Then, after WWI, we had that lot of moody American authors who expatriated themselves to Paris. I find them a spoiled and discontented bunch...and I don't much like their work.

The modern sense of the word is simply "living abroad, especially for a long but limited time". That is what separates an ex-pat from an immigrant. An immigrant moves abroad with the intention of adopting a new culture and a new citizenship. An ex-pat plans to go home.

I find that the term "ex-pat" often has negative connotations. It seems to refer to a smaller group than the above definition would suggest. That smaller group is usually one of privilege--businessmen, diplomats and their families--who spend a lot of money and are either ignorant or contemptuous of the culture where they are currently living. They are the international equivalent of homesick "ladies who lunch".

The Brits call ex-pats When-I's because of the tendency they have to start sentences with that phrase. I know I fall into that camp! I'm forever wanting to share my experiences of living abroad. I find it fascinating! I read about a woman who was an anthropologist. Her job was to live in other cultures and discover the "rules" that govern social interaction. That made me think that I actually AM an anthropologist...and wonder where I could go collect that paycheck. In defense of the When-I's who may be seen as braggadocious (not to be confused with expialidocious), sometimes these pop out just because that's our life. We don't have any other experience to share. And, yes, we may think that everyone is an amateur anthropologist and will find it as interesting as we do.

I do call myself an ex-pat in adherence to the denotation of the word. I hope I don't embody the negative connotations of the sub-group! And, I hope you find the When I's that fill this blog interesting.

So there you have it--etymology, denotation and connotation. Hopefully the other logophiles out there found this interesting...and the rest of you will bear with me and at least find this better than talking about laundry!


votemom said...

i always feel inferior when i read some of your posts. you remind me of my sister who has an amazing memory and uses a very wide vocabulary when she communicates.

even though i have a college degree and consider myself to be sensible, smart, and wise.... i sometimes wish my brain was wired in a way that reflected more of my intelligence ;o)

all that to say - this post intimidated me on it's content and how it was written!!!

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the edifying post. I enjoyed it a lot as I learned from it and I also appreciate learning.



Anonymous said...

As an ex-ex-pat, I find myself in the "When-I" category, too. I remember how annoying those people used to be...always place-dropping etc! I'm sure I'm equally annoying to some now, though I try to be conscious of it. But, after 5 1/2 years living in Germany, traveling all over western Europe, the experience is part of me. I find I'm most comfortable among others who have lived abroad, or at least traveled quite a bit, when I don't have to think about it. That's part of what I enjoy about reading your blog!

Suz said...

I love your "when-I's"!! And the lovely thing about a blog is the reader doesn't have to read it!

So I say, "when-I" all you want!!

Anonymous said...

Ahhh, now THERE is the Kate we all know and love! This post sounds like you...and makes me MISS you.

votemom said...

so did the vinegar work??

Anonymous said...

Hi Kate, I have read your blog several times. You are one of the few out there I have found who is also an ex-pat that has had to deal with the whole adoption deal from this side of the world. Are you still in the process of adopting? How is it going now? We are about done, I hope...We are waiting for our I171H form from Moscow. So, when that comes (no idea how long it generally takes), then all of our documents will be ready to go. The last blog I see is from 2006, so just curious how it is going.
Shelby from Salekhard, Siberia...by way of Michigan

annette said...

Kate, miss you so much and am so glad about miss sasha, what a dear!