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In Japanese, モブ (short for モブキャラクター) refers to a character who plays a minor role in anime/manga/games - source. The same source claims that the etymology is 和製英語 and traces its origin to Japanese animators in the 1970's.

In English, a "mob" refers to a type of non-player character in a computer game. According to this source the term was invented by Richard Bartle as an abbreviation of "mobile object". I can't find a date for it, but Bartle was born in 1960, so I assume the term was coined some number of years after his birth.

The two words have very similar meanings in both languages but apparently two completely different etymologies. Is anyone able to come up with additional sources that confirm the different etymologies or sources that can refute one of the two proposed etymologies?

  • Well, in games minor mob enemies are referred to as 雑魚, so there is a separate word for that concept – ssb Jan 8 '15 at 2:03
  • Good point, although my personal impression was that 雑魚 corresponded more to the English term "trash" or "trash mob" in MMO usage. – 無色受想行識 Jan 8 '15 at 2:12
  • The source claims the phrase モブキャラクター is 和製英語, not モブ itself. ザコ means 'non-boss enemy' or 'weak enemy (even for a boss)', depending on the context. AFAIK Japanese MMO players use モブ often. Some think モブ is the same as ザコ in the former sense, and others think モブ is 'NPC enemy in general'. – naruto Jan 8 '15 at 13:16
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If you look closely, you will see that the article tells you that "モブ" indeed comes from the English word "mob". But this word had the sense of a crowd long before it had the sense of a NPC in a video game. In this sense, the "モブ" characters were the ones that were drawn in a crowd, for example in sports scenes (cf. second paragraph) from which the main character would stand out.

The sense of a NPC came later, and is indeed appropriate for animation but I think we are looking at a coincidence:

  • In Japanese the "crowd of characters" became a "featureless character"
  • For the NPC, their acronym became their name and is the same as the actual word used to describe a crowd.

However please note that the etymology of "mob" is "mobile vulgus" in latin, it is thus no coincidence that a "mobile object" would be abbreviated in the same way and land on the same word, "mob".

Cheers !

  • FWIW, 無味 in the context of the article might be better rendered as "featureless" or "unremarkable". "Tasteless" sounds more like 下品 or 無礼. – Eiríkr Útlendi Jan 9 '15 at 0:07
  • Oh thanks, couldn't find the appropriate word at the time... – Urukann Jan 9 '15 at 13:52

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