April 11, 2009

Tattoo stupidity

Of all the idiocy that people choose to ink on their bodies, the one that I find most mystifying is the urge by Westerners to get tattoos of Chinese or Japanese symbols, relying upon the linguistic skills of the fellow wielding the needlegun at some hole-in-the-wall ink parlor.

What's the point of getting a tattoo that neither you nor 99 percent of the people you meet can read? So you can feel superior as you explain to the curious what your oh-so deep tat means?

Apparently I'm not alone; there's a website dedicated to posting examples of rather permanent typos: Hanzi Smatter, labelled by the blogger as "dedicated to the misuse of chinese characters in western culture."

For instance, someone e-mailed Hanzi about a co-worker's tatoo.

Stupid tattoo.jpg

I was talking about your website with a co-worker of mine, in reference to one of your articles. She wanted me to find out if the tattoo she got really means what she wanted it to mean (obviously!). Here is a pic of her tattoo. She thinks it means "Bitch." What does it look like to you?

Hanzis Matter replied:

Why would anyone wanted to label themselves in such negative way?

Typically bitch as noun is translated as 母狗 and 婊子 as slang.

What this woman tattooed 贱女 really means "cheap whore".


Celebrities are just as prone to his madness, or should I say, even more so.


Here's NBA player Marcus Camby's tattoo. Tian explains:

Usually the character 族 is used in Chinese referring to a certain ethnic group. In this case, without any detailed explanation, Camby's tattoo means he is a member of the 勉 ethnic group, which is nonexistent.

Nothing like letting the world know that you're proud of your imaginary heritage.

That reminds me of a short-lived sitcom I saw a few years ago on NBC; it dealt with this very subject, and thanks to the wonders of YouTube, I've tracked it down for your viewing pleasure.

If you don't feel like watching, here's the Cliff Notes version:

Jan. 11, 2005 episode of NBC's new sitcom "Committed", there is a story about Bowie's (Darius McCrary) Chinese character tattoo.

The next day at the record store Nate and Bowie talk about how Nate needs to throw all his crap out. The Chinese delivery guy shows up and tells Bowie that his tattoo doesn't mean "Fiery Strength," it actually means "Lil' B*tch." Bowie doesn't take that well.

Another Chinese delivery guy shows up and Bowie has him translate his tattoo. He says it means, "Of two men who love each other, you are the one who plays the woman."

Bowie is picking out a new tattoo, and the tattoo guy suggests picking another Chinese character. Bowie doesn't trust the poster of them on the wall, but starts to look at a Chinese food menu.

Bowie is on the subway and a guy compliments his tattoo. He asks if Bowie knows what it means and he says "Lemon Chicken." When the guy says that Bowie must really like lemon chicken, Bowie says, "I do now."

If you must mark yourself for all eternity with a pithy catchphrase or slogan, do yourself a favor and stick to your mother tongue.

Posted by Mike Lief at April 11, 2009 07:43 PM | TrackBack


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