I've never really understood why there is a difference between 髪の毛 and 毛 when talking about hair on one's body. What is it about 髪 that makes it only relevant in the context of having "hair on the head"? Why wouldn't I be able to call hair 髪の毛 if it was in a different area?

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    Um, because that is what 髪 means. Your question is analogous to “Why can ‘cat’ only refer to that feline animal and not other animals?” – Tsuyoshi Ito Oct 21 '12 at 8:45
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    @TsuyoshiIto: I don't see your point. Apparently, this is a concept that is so obvious there shouldn't be any questions asked about it? – Chris Oct 21 '12 at 17:10
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    I answered why 髪 can refer to the hair on the head and not the hair in the other places: because that is what 髪 means, period. I am not sure if this is the answer you are looking for, but if not, you did not ask the right question. – Tsuyoshi Ito Oct 22 '12 at 2:21

髪 is possibly related to 上 (but not 神, see Dono's comment below), something that is at the top. 髪, then, refers to the head (i.e. top of the body), so that 髪の毛 is the hair on your head. Similarly, 腕の毛 would be the hair on your arms, 脚の毛 the hair on your legs.

  • This makes more sense. I was told that if it's not 髪の毛, then it would just be called 毛. But if you're saying that it's actually 腕の毛 etc., then I can understand. – Chris Oct 21 '12 at 17:06
  • @Chris 毛 is just hair, e.g. 毛深い for "hairy". If you want to refer to hair on a specific part of your body, you would use 髪の毛 et al. – Earthliŋ Oct 21 '12 at 17:10
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    "髪 is possibly related to 上 and 神": 髪 (kami1) is not related to 神 (kami2). The first contains /mi1/ and the second /mi2/, entirely different mora. Look up 上代特殊仮名遣 for details. – Dono Oct 21 '12 at 21:58
  • @Dono That's really interesting. Thank you for the keyword. Now I have some bedtime reading. – Earthliŋ Oct 21 '12 at 22:08
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    gogen-allguide.com/ka/kami.html confirms @Dono's theory. Just to nitpick, though: The fact that they were once pronounced differently does no necessarily mean that they do not share etymology. – dainichi Oct 22 '12 at 0:53

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