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無 means not, nil, without, nothing, lack.
所 means place, cause; who, what.
不 means no, not.

In each four-character idiom below, the last and fourth Chinese character is translated to the English lexical morpheme.

1. Thus I am inferring that the first three characters (無所不) beget the meaning of "omni-, any, all, every" — But how?

2. In particular, I am addled by the juxtaposition of 無 + 不. What does this double negative 無 + 不 mean?

無所不為 means "to stop at nothing".

無所不能 means 'omni-potent'.

無所不知 means 'omni-scient'.

無所不在 means "omni-present'.

無所不至 means "penetrate everywhere".

無所不賣 means "to sell anything ; to sell everything."

無所不談 means "to talk about everything"

無所不包 means "all-inclusive".

無所不言 means "say anything".

無所不有 means "have all / have everything".

3 Answers 3

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Here, 所 is a function word that equates to "anything/place". And note that "-" + "-" ="+".

無所不為 - not anything not doing = nothing not doing = doing (about) everything.

無所不能 - not anything not able = nothing not able = able of everything.

無所不知 - not anything not knowing = nothing not knowing = knowing (about) everything.

無所不在 no place not present = present in (about) everywhere.

無所不至 no place not reached = reached (about) everyplace.

無所不賣 - not anything not selling = nothing not selling = selling (about) everything.

無所不談 - not anything not talking = nothing not talking = talking (about) everything.

無所不包 - not anything not including = nothing not including = including (about) everything.

無所不言 - not anything not speaking = nothing not speaking = speaking (about) everything.

無所不有 - not anything not having = nothing not having = having (about) everything.

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  • "And note that "-" + "-" ="+"." Kindly elaborate? Are you referring to this? I never thought that math would show up in Chinese!!!
    – user34654
    Jun 19, 2023 at 7:02
  • It is the common logic - a double negative equates to a positive.
    – r13
    Jun 19, 2023 at 13:05
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The phrase "无所不" (wú suǒ bù) is a combination of several Chinese words: "无" (wú) meaning "without" or "not," "所" (suǒ) indicating "all" or "everything," and "不" (bù) negating the verb that follows. When used together, "无所不" conveys the idea of "without any exceptions" or "in every aspect."

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  • "When used together, "无所不" conveys the idea of "without any exceptions" or "in every aspect."" You skipped a step in your reasoning. Where does "exceptions" and "aspect" come from? In your definition of 無所不, you never wrote "exceptions" or "aspect". Nothing in 無所不 means exceptions or aspect.
    – user34654
    Jun 19, 2023 at 7:04
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There was a thread about this not too long ago, I seem to remember, but I am useless at finding threads.

Just think of 无所不 as not that not, i.e. definitely that.

Or think of 无所 as nothing or nowhere.

无所不包: (There is) nothing (which is) not included
无所不有: (There is) nothing (which something does) not have
无所不在: (There is) nowhere (where it is) not found
无所不能: (There is) nothing (which it) can not do
无所不为: (There is) nothing (to which someone will) not stoop
无所不知: (There is) nothing (which someone does) not know
无所不切: (There is) nothing (which it can) not cut
无所不至: (There is) nowhere (where it does) not reach, (There is) nothing (to which someone will) not stoop

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