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I was reading this two articles:

  1. Onigiri wikipedia's article
  2. Nigiri explanation inside wikipedia's sushi article

I first thought that onigiri was a type of sushi but it's not. It calls my attention how something with similar names mean something so different. So my question is:

  • What does nigiri mean?
  • Does the o in the beginning of a word mean something special?
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3  
−1 because you made me feel very hungry. (joking) –  Tsuyoshi Ito Sep 3 '12 at 19:25
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1 Answer

up vote 7 down vote accepted

It is a "rice ball", usually with some kind of meat inside and wrapped in seaweed (similar to sushi). Unlike sushi though, which you hold and eat with chopsticks, an onigiri is made to hold in the hand.

The o- is an honorific prefix. It is used to give respect to an object or person, and is done with several choice words (including o-sushi). This sociolinguistic aspect of the Japanese language is imperative to understand, as some words can often sound harsh and/or insulting if the honorific prefix is omitted. See this article for a more detailed description.

edit:
[握]{にぎ}り[寿司]{ずし} is a specific kind of sushi. An お[握]{にぎ}り is a rice ball. The word [握]{にぎ}り alone simply means "a grip or handle" (like a doorknob). They're all derived from the verb "[握]{にぎ}る", meaning "to grasp". On the second page you posted, they appear to be using "nigiri" as shorthand for "nigiri-zushi".

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Thanks for your answer. Does nigiri have any japanese meaning apart from the food? –  Macarse Aug 28 '12 at 16:11
    
onigiri is also called お結び. what does お結び mean literally? –  yadokari Aug 28 '12 at 16:15
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結び comes from 結ぶ which means to "bind/wrap/tie up". In one sense, it can mean "ending" as mentioned (where it all gets "tied-up"), but it's also a synonym for お握り, probably because they're often wrapped with seaweed. –  istrasci Aug 28 '12 at 17:45
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@Macarse japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/2526/… ;) –  Ataraxia Aug 28 '12 at 17:57
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Also "ball" is kinda historic. Traditionally onigri were hand made and spherical. These days many are factory made and one very common kind is triangular. There can be many fillings other than meat or fish and they are not always wrapped in seaweed. Oh and I ❤ them. –  hippietrail Aug 30 '12 at 15:44
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