My turn to try to explain it. Only because I am language obsessed so love this kind of thing.
In Japanese, anime does not mean anything special at all. It's just a borrowed word from English. Due to the syllabic nature of the Japanese language, long English words are hard to pronounce so they shorten them. Thus television is 'teribi' in Japanese, personal computer is 'pasukon' and animation (meaning anything animated, be it Pokemon or Sleeping Beauty), becomes anime.
However, though the Japanese make no real distinction between their home-grown animation and those produced over seas (they don't use the word, 'cartoon'), we in the West do need a name for that specific form of animation. Why say, 'animation from Japan' when it is so much easier just to use their word? Thus in English and many other non-Japanese languages, 'anime' refers to animations produced in Japan.
As AK said, 'cartoon' in English at least, is generally only used to refer to childrens' animation.
If my explanation doesn't satisfy either, I think wiki is the next step to take!! Hehe.
Added 8 minutes later:
Oh additional: It is often thought by anime fans in the West that while our fandom is considered nerdy here, it is more accepted in Japan. Ohhh no!!! Trust this from someone who lived there and watched the horror of her fellow white-nerd as they arrived in their new home country only to find that their Dragon Ball Z obsession is JUST as nerdy there!!!
Additional additional: also, the exact same story is true of manga. The word just means a comic in Japan so manga can be Naruto or Spiderman. In English though, we would only use manga to mean the first one, not the second.
Additional additional additional: There actually isn't anything else to add, I just thought it would be funny to repeat 'additional' more times. Oh but, erm, yeah.. comic fandom is also, just as nerdy in Japan. But you can buy covers for manga that makes it look like a normal reading book, for when you want to read it on the train after work. NO ONE would want to be seen as that sticking up pole while in public!!!
This post was edited by Jembru (2010-11-06 13:07, 7 years ago)