“Mushiro” is one of those words that isn’t in everyone’s speaking style, but it’s really good to know what it means and how it’s used. The English output differs because different words fit different sentence situations. The word itself demonstrates the better option among two or more.
Picking Shoe Color
その服には青よりむしろ茶の靴が似合う. (sono fuku ni wa aoi yori mushiro cha no kutsu ga niau.)
Brown shoes are a better fit for these clothes than blue ones.
The Words Being Used
sono = this
fuku = clothes (general)
ni wa = defining what precedes as the topic and what follows as relating to the topic
aoi = blue
yori = what follows is “more than” what precedes
mushiro = defines what follows as the better option, the higher preference
cha = “tea color”, a lighter brown like a lot of leather clothing
no = connects the preceding with the following
kutsu = shoes
ga = defines the subject of the verb that follows
niau = verb; to suit, to match
You Should’ve Done It Yourself
彼に頼むくらいなら、むしろ自分でやったほうがいい (kare ni tanomu kurai nara, mushiro jubun de yatta hou ga ii)
If you could ask him to do it, you ought to have done it yourself.
The Words Being Used
kare = him
ni = the following applies to the preceding
tanomu = verb; to request, to ask someone to do X
kurai = degree
nara = if
mushiro = the better option
jibun = yourself, oneself
de = “by” in this case; indicates the means of doing something
yatta = verb; past tense of ‘yaru’, a general verb for “to do”
hou = direction; think of options as arranged in a circle around you
ga ii = declaring that the preceding “is good”
Expanding On These Sentences
Here’s how the structure works:
The first option discussed -> The better, higher option
There’s other instances this could crop up, too.
“We could go to the baseball game, or rather, the mall.”
Perhaps you see the problem here? A lot of people would never use “or rather”. That’s the same in Japanese as it is in English. In the first place, the “or” would be indispensable if using “rather” in this location. If not “or”, it’d have to be more like this:
“We could go to the baseball game, but I’d rather go to the mall instead.”
This is why you can’t just blindly translate from dictionaries. The context is dictating the grammar. Indeed, the grammar is dictating the vocabulary in turn. My advice for dealing with “mushiro” is to focus on what it means, rather than what it says. If I’m just skimming Japanese text, I don’t need to worry about translating; I just accept “mushiro” is stating a preference and move on. It’s only if I have to turn it into English that I have to fiddle around.
I reiterate: the real issue is not drowning in the grammar when someone else uses the word. Learners probably shouldn’t try to use it themselves until they’ve heard it used in context at least a good hundred times. Even then, using it properly would not work in all settings. It’s still really good to know what it means and not trip all over it. – J