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“Zen” as an Adjective

I recently had the urge to use “Zen” to describe a way of traveling light, calm, and without want. However, after looking in a dictionary, I learned that “zen” is not listed as ever being an adjective. How can this be so? I am absolutely sure I have heard things being described as “zen” on television and in media. In a phrase such as “Zen garden” would “Zen” be an adjective, or would “Zen Garden” function as an entire, or proper, noun? Just wondering. Thanks.

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I'm not an expert, but I don't think I have ever heard someone use 'zen' directly as an adjective.
I never hear:
"Suchandsuch is zen".
What I hear is:
"Suchandsuch is zen-like"
I'm not sure, when writing, whether one is to use a dash or not between the words.

mudflye August 25, 2004 @ 3:00PM

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I had a problem to find a word (an adjective) which meant "related to or derived from Zen" when I was writing an article about a Japanese performance. I searched to see what adjective I can find. I didn't find any. There however were things like "Zen-based-arts" etc. So I thought to myself there is not an adjective for it in English.

goossun August 26, 2004 @ 5:38AM

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A word can be a noun and an adjective at the same time, guys. It's extremely common and perfectly OK.

Zen Garden may be compared to "flower garden" or "Zen meditation," both perfectly understandable phrases that use a noun to perform the adjectival function.

speedwell2 August 26, 2004 @ 9:13AM

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Zen is a word and idea that is becoming a fad in the US. Young people, those who would have been yuppies if they were alive years ago, are now liberal starbucks-coffee drinkers who have houses designed efficiently (the word escapes me at the moment) anad those are the people who have started reading zen books and using zen in daily speech. although it is not an adjective, i think it can be used as one because it is the only way to communicate a certain idea. The adjectival meaning is clear, so I would use it.

Ben2 September 18, 2004 @ 12:26AM

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Sorry, i got a little off-topic on that one.

Ben2 September 18, 2004 @ 12:26AM

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Ben, please allow me to inform you that your posts would be much more intelligent and credible if you showed you knew or cared the first thing about grammar, style, and usage.

speedwell2 September 18, 2004 @ 6:12PM

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Is it only in my imagination that I hear a languishing voice utter things like "It's so VERY Zen"? Adjective, no doubt. As Speedwell said, a noun can be used also as an adjective.

Perenna1 October 24, 2004 @ 10:02AM

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"Zen" used casually nowadays seems to me to mean "mellow", "mature without being stodgy or Establishment, "savvy", "cool" and most importantly, with an insight of how all things are One, peace is a primary goal of being alive, and reverence for Nature and inner beauty is another. These notions do come from Zen Buddhism, but for most people who used the word "Zen" this way, not directly. That is, they hear others use te world and consider these people mellow, mature, savvy, cool, and insightful. Then these people at the third remove begin using the word Zen, too. A few people always regarded as Zen are Sting the singer; Joni Mitchell the singer; Jack Nicholson the actor: and probably Steven Jobs, CEO of Apple. I forgot to mention "Zen" also has connotations of "quiet", "understated" and "indirect". Muhammad Ali is regarded as cool but too loud and direct to be Zen. Johnny Depp is Zen. To avoid making this definition circular, we'd also have to define words such as "cool" and "mellow". I don't like the term "Zen" used this way because its vague and I think faddish. Traditionally and originally, the word "Zen" has a specific meaning, not the same as the faddish "Zen". I'd suggest we all try a little harder to find the exact word or words we have in mind when we mean something.

ps60s December 20, 2009 @ 4:37AM

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Ben, if you mean houses designed harmoniously rather than efficiently, then you're probably thinking of "feng shui". That's oh so very Zen.

porsche December 20, 2009 @ 9:12PM

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Why do you say that Porsche? Why is Feng Shui "Zen"? I didn't mean that. I don't know if you're right or wrong or what. That's why we need to define these terms, or not use them at all. Please explain.

"Feng shui" means "in accordance with The Way, The Tao", doesn't it? Pleasing to and in accordance with the Spirit and Nature of All Things. I think. The original Zen would not be that, although similar in tone.

ps60s December 20, 2009 @ 9:52PM

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Oh that's funny. My wife told me this would happen while I was posting it. Roger, I meant the Zen comment somewhat tongue in cheek, in keeping with the other comments above about Zen being the new chic, rather than its literal meaning. By the way, feng shui literally means wind and water, metaphorically, our natural surroundings, and, specifically, the art of creating harmonious surroundings in which we would flourish.

porsche December 21, 2009 @ 9:38AM

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As an adjective, I think 'zen' is often used to mean calm, collected, & quiet. I take it to mean harmonious, simple, pure, and/or complete.

Is it a fad if I use it as an adjective for the next 50 years? ... because I plan to-- and for your pleasure or grief, I will be spreading my definition and usage where ever I go.
Ha ha ha.

Joe4 May 26, 2010 @ 1:21AM

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It's listed as an adjective in the OED.

goofy May 26, 2010 @ 9:44AM

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Porsche, I caught the intent of the "oh so very Zen" comment, and loved it.

Noun and adjective are interchanged more than people realize, and practically any of either can function as the other. My understanding is that usage of a word as description renders the word an adjective in that case, whether we like it or not. Whether it be an accepted adjective or not, as is the case with adjectives as nouns.

i.e. "Do you want the red wine or the white?" "I'd like the red." Red becomes the noun, almost a pronoun of sorts. Please correct me if I'm wrong. I am a casual surveyor of linguistic eccentricity and invite any relevant criticism.

peter.brusky June 19, 2010 @ 5:16PM

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According to, zenic would be the adjective form. I suppose that works.

Patrick1 July 31, 2010 @ 7:05AM

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English definition of “zen”
adjective /zen/ UK informal
› relaxed and not worrying about things that you cannot change: There's nothing you can do to change the situation so you just have to be a bit more zen about it.
(Definition of zen adjective from the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press)

Raan November 23, 2013 @ 1:21AM

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It kind of bothers me as a Buddhist when people use "Zen" as an adjective to decribe serenity and peace, because originally Zen is the name of a sect of Japanese Buddhism, so seeing Westerners use the word like that is kind of like seeing other foreigners use "Protestant" to describe, oh I don't know, hot temperatures, "Catholic" to describe slippery-ness, or "Sunni" to describe rigidness and hardness.

Eliza November 26, 2013 @ 6:33PM

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I agree with Eliza.

Z May 31, 2014 @ 9:45PM

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I find that the word "Zen" is often used as an adjective in contexts such as, "this place is very zen" or "he is a zen dude." In both cases I find that the word is used to indicate a sort of peacefulness, serenity and maybe spiritual nature.

The word Zen is a Japanese term that roughly means meditation or complete absorption. This Japanese word is derived from the Chinese term "Chan" and the Sanskrit term "dhyana." Though direct translations may vary, most scholars seem to agree that the term is a word for what we call meditation. Zen-Buddhism is a form of buddhism that holds to central doctrine of illumination, or sudden awakening through this immersion or meditation. Za-Zen is a particular method of meditation that is rather central to Zen buddhism.

In western culture, the used of the term as an adjective seems to speak to the imagery and feelings surrounding zen buddhism and it's rituals rather than to the true roots of the word.

"Those who who do not speak;
Those who speak do not know"

Boogers December 12, 2014 @ 12:04PM

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I also agree with Eliza. Pick a better adjective. Continuing to use "Zen" that way only commodifies and promotes misunderstanding about that religious tradition.

Dustin April 23, 2017 @ 9:14PM

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