Chinese characters are beautiful. That’s perhaps why many Westerners find the notion of the script etched on their bodies so appealing. If only they could read the tattoos!
Enter blog Hanzi Smatter. For years now, the site, which is run by a blogger named Tian, has been helping readers decipher the meaning of Chinese (or Japanese*) language items they send in.
*Note that the Japanese language uses adopted Chinese script, which is called “kanji.”
Perhaps the best service Hanzi Smatter does is translating people’s ink and explains how the tattoos often either misuse characters or are completely wrong. The result is some truly odd body art.
Let’s have a look:
Amy writes: “My friend just got this tattoo but he won’t tell any of us what it means. I’m beginning to think it’s just gibberish after seeing all of the older posts. Any help is appreciated!”
Hanzi Smatter replies that the tattoo is a grammatically incorrect translation based on, perhaps, Google Translate. The arms read, “Destroy / Them / Total” and “Let / Deity / Organise / Them.” More like “Destroy Chinese Grammar!”
Daryn writes: “[Here] is my sister’s new tattoo, it is supposed to be both of her daughters initials (ESO and EGO in English). But what are we really looking at?”
Hanzi Smatter replies: “所, place 狗, dog
place dog, dog place?” :(
Collin writes: “My friend asked me to find out what she’s had tattooed on her shoulder since her teens. Can you translate it or identify it as junk?”
Hanzi Smatter replies that the character appears to be “大過“, which means “serious error; gross mistake.” Ain’t that the truth.
Philippa writes: “Hello, My boyfriend got this tattoo a while ago, he initially thought it meant ‘freedom.’ After a trip overseas we had a strange interaction with a tourist after he saw it- but he was unable to tell us what it meant.. Are unable to help us?!”
Hanzi Smatter replies that the tattoo “無料” means “free” as in “no charge.” Hopefully that’s the price paid for this ink.
Angel writes: “my girlfriend has this tattoo and she thinks it says friendship. can you confirm this thank you.”
Hanzi Smatter replies that “醜” means “bad looking; shame; ugly; unclean.” :(
Amanda writes: “My brother recently got a tattoo that he believe translates to ‘fast and furious.’ Is this the case at all?”
Tom writes: “Can you please tell me what this means. My brother got this last week and is an idiot.”
Hanzi Smatter replies, “自律 means “autonomy” and 樂 means “joy”. However due to the location of the tattoo, one can make a cheeky remark of this young man is “taking care of business himself.’” So…it’s not a mistake, then?
And if you are thinking of a Chinese or Japanese language tattoo and don’t know either lingo, might I suggest English? Though, I’ve seen that misused in tattoos, too. How about a big-arse falcon? You can’t screw that up.
To contact the author of this post, write to bashcraftATkotaku.com or find him on Twitter @Brian_Ashcraft.
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