This is perhaps the second most propagated myth about anime on the internet.
The flawed reasoning is this: a French word for "animation" or "cartoon" is "dessins-animés" (literally, "animated drawing"). "animés", in this case, is an inflected form of the past-participle of "animer", "to animate". This word shares a nearly identical pronunciation with the Japanese word "anime". Therefore, through virtue of coincidental existence, the Japanese must have taken this word from the French.
The actual etymology is somewhat different. It should be noted that the word "anime" didn't just spring into Japanese. In fact, the word "anime" as an abbreviation is somewhat new and isn't even listed in many older dictionaries -- a Japanese dictionary will generally list "anime" as "abbreviation for animeeshon". Looking up animeeshon almost always shows that it was taken from the English word "animation".
In fact, a lookalike, "animation" exists in French as well as English. (Thanks Albert!) It is here from which the English word was appropriated. The coincidence of French and Japanese comes only secondhand from French, and thirdhand from Latin. So if you want to argue that by association anime is a French word, you're wrong. IT'S LATIN!!!
Furthermore, the "e" (ay) sound at the end of "anime" comes from the English pronunciation of the middle "a" in "animation". If the word was taken directly from the French "animation", it would have been pronounced (and thus transcribed into English) as "anima".
How has this myth propogated so far?
Well, there is always The Golden Rule of the Information Age. In addition, I have another explanation: Anime fans are alienated by a society that insists that cartoons must be appreciated by kids and only kids. This can easily cause an insecurity about their hobby, which causes them to seek to promote and legitimize anime. What better way than to associate it with an artsy French term?
If you want a good link demonstrating this phenomenon, try this one:
Witness the pain as linguists try to argue with an anime fan (complete with anime character moniker) on this very point!
And Lastly, My Sources:
- Koujien 5th ed. (this book weighs 5.5 kg)
- Sanseido's Daily Concise English Dictionary 4th ed (1979)
- Genius Japanese-English / English-Japanese Dictionary Set
- Personal Katakanago Jiten
- Daijirin Kokugo Jiten Online Version (accessible at http://dictionary.goo.ne.jp/)
- Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online Version (accessible at http://www.m-w.com/) - search for "anime" for a particularly interesting entry
- Thanks to Albert Herring for information regarding the French and Latin etymologies - You rock my linguistic world!
In all honesty, the link that I gave above, while not sourceable since it's just a chatroom log, sums up this phenomenon much better than my w/u. :)