Common use of Japanese 'Mu' Prefix
August 8, 2008 6:41 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for interesting uses of the prefix 'mu' (無) in Japanese. I want to find an example of mu's general use that attains to its meaning as -less or an absence of. The example I have currently, 無線 'musen' meaning 'wireless', is a little boring.

I lived in Japan for 2 years, but my Japanese is very bad and getting worse. Any interesting words or concepts would be extremely helpful.

posted by 0bvious to Writing & Language (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
My favorite site for looking up Japanese words is I did a search there with 無 (and with only common words shown) and it gives a long list of words that follow your requirements.

My personal favorite is 無料 'muryou', meaning 'no charge/free', simply because we learned both of those kanji in my last year of studying.
posted by Meagan at 6:54 AM on August 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

What about 無印良品, the lovely store full of things without any brand labeling?
posted by that girl at 6:55 AM on August 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Just going through an electronic dictionary, there's muen (smokeless) mueki (useless), mui (idle), muichimon (penniless), muimi (meaningless), and muen (irrelevant).

In other words, there's a lot of words that involve 'mu' as part of the word. Best bet would be to head to a bookstore and page through a paperback Japanese-English dictionary.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:00 AM on August 8, 2008

Response by poster: I am such a dunce, I had a Japanese dictionary about a metre away from my hand.

Some great examples, thanks. I think I found a favourite in ‘museigen’ translated as ‘boundless’ or ‘without limit’. It fits perfectly in the context I want to use it (an essay I am writing).

More interesting examples would be very much appreciated.
posted by 0bvious at 7:06 AM on August 8, 2008

Best answer: here ya go . . . from Jim Breen's edict file:

無人島 [むじんとう] /(n) unpopulated island/

^ this is by far my favorite

無政府主義者 [むせいふしゅぎしゃ] /(n) anarchist/
無想無念 [むそうむねん] /(n,adj-no) being free from all distracting thoughts/keeping one's mind clear of all worldly thoughts/being free from all ideas and thoughts/
無駄 [むだ] /(adj-na,n) futility/uselessness/pointlessness/(P)/
無理 [むり] /(adj-na,n,vs) unreasonable/impossible/overdoing/(P)/

the last two are uncommonly common expressions so you've probably heard them before, but in the case of the last one when I first came across it my my Japanese students had to try to explain it to me . . . when something is 'muri' the best idiomatic English is 'no f-ing way'.
posted by yort at 7:19 AM on August 8, 2008

yeah, in the usual course of things after two years you kinda hit a plateau where you're going to learn all you can by osmosis. If you haven't already, a good jump-start is pounding down all 2500+ of the common kanji. At 50 per week this would take a year, but I did them all in about 3 months since 500 are pretty useless and 1000+ are pretty easy to remember leaving only about a thousand that take repeated effort to master. Knowing the kanji is an excellent way to boot-strap into more ability since it's just like learning latin roots for English. I was watching soccer and I heard 'choku-setsu goal!' . . . I had known choku was direct and setsu was touch so hearing and understanding the new word was easier. 接 is also one of the simple kanji to remember, in Henshall's approach the mnemomic is 'touch a standing woman' :)
posted by yort at 7:26 AM on August 8, 2008

Best answer: 無心 - Mushin - Common term in Japanese martial arts, means "no mind", the absence of thought, the void.

無血革命 - Muketsu kakumei - Bloodless revolution

無人気球 - Mujin kikyuu - An unmanned balloon/blimp

無安打試合 - Muanda shiai - A no-hitter in baseball

無鉛ガソリン - Muen gasorin - Unleaded gasoline

無欠席 - Mukesseki - No absence (perfect attendance)

無法地帯 - Muhou chitai - A lawless zone
posted by splice at 7:41 AM on August 8, 2008

無茶 = absurd

(lit: no tea!)
posted by dydecker at 8:41 AM on August 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

無神論者 = athiest
posted by dydecker at 8:45 AM on August 8, 2008

無限プチプチ mugen puchipuchi infinite electronic bubble wrap key chain
posted by Infernarl at 9:03 AM on August 8, 2008

無修正 = uncensored ;)
posted by dydecker at 9:07 AM on August 8, 2008

Seconding 無心 - Mushin in the martial arts. At my dojo we use it to keep people "in the moment", not analyzing or fretting over their last move and ready for whatever their opponent does next.
posted by tommasz at 9:25 AM on August 8, 2008

Ah, forgot to include this one:

無双 - むそう - Peerless
posted by splice at 2:19 PM on August 8, 2008

The first album by Shiina Ringo (椎名林檎) is titled Muzai Moratorium (「無罪モラトリアム」), or "innocence moratorium." (罪 = crime)
posted by NemesisVex at 2:15 PM on August 11, 2008

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