Saturday, October 30, 2004

Let the Laughter Begin

Not only this is a tattoo with terrible penmanship, but all the characters are mixed between Simplified and Traditional version. The second character from the right is upside down, and last character is wrongly written. Here is what critiques say about this "artwork":

Randall: "Yikes!"

: "Wah! Do I really need to count? This is such a horrible tattoo! I don't know why this 'phrase' is made up with both traditional and simplified characters. Second, the second and third last characters are up-side-down, and the second and last characters are actually the same character. I have no idea what the hell this tatto is supposed to tell people "Speed something something smart power?'."

Brendan: "Oh, man. I can't even tell what a couple of those are supposed to be. Also, it looks like it was colored in using a marker or something."

Eden: "Man, there's just too many errors. I feel sorry for that guy..."

= speed, velocity

() = power, right, authority

= lineage, ancestry; ancestor, clan

() = wisdom, knowledge, intelligence

= measure, quantity, capacity

= achievement, merit, good result

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Oversimplified "Dragon"

The tattoo above suppose to be the simplified version of the character "dragon". Except the tattoo artist has decide to put the "dragon" on another level of cultural diet, oversimplified it by neglecting an important dot.

Here is the correct "dragon":

Simplifed version:

Traditional version:

ps. thanks to tattoo artist (or parlors) like this, this site will never run out of material...

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Mystery Coffin Carrier

I came across ths tattoo and it is obviously that he wanted "coffin carrier" or "the undertaker" to be tattooed. but I have never seen the middle character before. Wondering if I have missed something, I contacted John Pasden for a second opinion.

John checked his big fat Chinese dictionary, but it didn't have that character. His first impression was that it was supposed to be , but that doesn't make sense either. He then looked up "coffin" in a Japanese dictionary. It's written or .

To conclude, neither John nor I recognize the middle character, especially when the correct way to write is:

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

"Sacrificed for a Righteous Cause"

From reader "Daniel S.":

"Hey, how you doing? Came across your site,which is very interesting. Wondered if you could do me a favour and translate the characters on my fore arm. A few Chinese lads have told me it means roughly what its supposed to, just hoped you could give me your translation? Thanks"

All the characters are correct and the Chinese translation is "sacrificed for a righteous cause", or the Japanese equivalent of "even if it was unsuccessful, it was for a good cause".

As a word of caution, this phrase does have some negative meaning as well. It is often used to describe Japanese kamikaze pilots go into their suicidal battle.

= no, not
= accomplish
= task, merit, achievement
便 = ordinary, plain, convenient, handy, easy, then, so, thus, to relieve oneself
= humane, righteous

Monday, October 18, 2004

"I Strive for a Non-Existent Ethnic Group"

From reader "Angela S.":

"Hey Tian, I come across with a photo of Marcus Camby. I'm sure he means well when he gets that tattoo. But for me as a native Chinese speaker, I feel I wouldn’t be able to understand the tattoo without some explanation. I think non-native Chinese speakers have to understand that some English phases just don't translate well into Chinese."

I agree with Angela S. on this issue. Usually the character 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.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

"Did you know 'gullible' is not in the dictionary?"

Often I receive emails from fans giving me tips about hanzi/kanji related news. I really appreciate all the fans for their support. What were really interesting are email correspondents I had with “William D.” this afternoon:

William D.: “Hey, I just saw your website and thought your might appreciate this news story about a disgruntled tattoo artist. Which just goes to show you that if you're going to have something permanently marked on your body you better know what its. Even though it's pretty funny... doing it intentionally is pretty damn mean. Check out the story here:

Me: “Dear William, Did you know "Souf Oaklin fo' Life" is a fake spoof site? All the articles in there are FAKE. They are like the popular spoof site, The Onion.”

William D.: “By the way, I forgot to mention, you can Google for the guys name, Andy Sakai, and there's a few more news articles about him. In particular: He got 5 years and apparently still hasn't learned his lesson."

Me: *silence*

William D.: “Hey, I looked around a little bit more and noticed this: Souf Oaklin fo' Life! is a satirical newspaper published by Wooo Media. Oh well, another urban legend. Sorry about that, still kind of funny though :)”

Me: “No problem. I enjoyed the stories. Thanks for sending them in.”

Did I get what I paid for?

From reader "cloverleaf315w":

"I have three characters down my spine, they are supposed to mean 'wild, powerful, and fearless'. Can you tell me that's what I really paid for. I got these done in Tennessee by a local guy everyone goes to. It wasn't my best choice of tattoos I've put on my body, (slightly intoxicated)"

After I done some research, here is what I found:

The top one means "wild", the second one means "afraid", and the last one means "strength".

Friday, October 15, 2004

"White Wrist" or "Naughtiness"

I am a bit confused about this tattoo. If the characters are translated individually, one means "wrist" and the other means "white". Except, if they are translated as a phrase, in Chinese, it would mean "wrist is white", and "naughtiness" in Japanese.

= wrist (Chinese); arm (Japanese)

= white, snowy, empty, blank, bright, clear, plain, pure, gratuitous (Chinese); white (Japanese)

Thursday, October 14, 2004

"Crazy Diarrhea"

* Photo(s) have been removed on behalf of Ms. Naomi Chaney's (owner of the "crazy diarrhea" tattoo) Request *

The original photo can be viewed at

I am speechless...

Chinese translation:
= crazy
= to flow out, diarrhea

Japanese translation:
= mania
= decanting

"Power Piglet"

I have started to verify all characters in two versions (Traditional and Simplified) of Chinese and Japanese, after reader Eden Li's suggestion. Chinese (Hanzi) and Japanese (Kanji) share some characters, except meanings and writings may vary.

Tattoo above still means "power pig" in both Chinese and Japanese.

力 = power, force

豚 = piglet




Wikipedia (Chinese & Japanese)




Tuesday, October 12, 2004

"Motherly Beast Blessing"

What exactly is "motherly beast blessing"?

The first two characters are terribly done, especially consider the middle character is a badly botched simplification of beast, 獸.

Frankly, I believe my cat could have done better in her litter box while covering up her waste than this pathetic attempt.

母 = mother

獸 = animal, beast

祉 = blessings

"Place" T-shirt

I saw this at a local pizza deli during lunch today. The first character 处 means "place" and the second character is a partial. I don't know if they have any significant meanings in Japanese.

Reader Brendan points out "There's no way that can be anything other than a botched 处女."

Oh by the way, 处女 means "virgin".

Sunday, October 10, 2004

"Vegetarian World Excessively"?

素 = raw, simple, pure, or vegetarian (depends on context)

世 = world, era, generation

太 = very, too, excessively

Even if this person would like to proclaim a world or a lifestyle of simplicity or vegetarianism, the tattoo of random characters is way too hard for anyone to understand.

"Real Melon Knows Men"?

The four characters can be translated as following:

真 = true or real

瓜 = melon

智 = wisdom or intelligence

男 = man or male

I guess she wants everyone know that she got a smart melon on her shoulders and will not fooled by men. But not smart enough to realize the tattoo she got is complete gibbrish.

Saturday, October 9, 2004

Ambiguous Hanzi Tattoo - Case Study 3

"Not a Strength Trap"? What the hell does that mean? Does he want everyone to know that his right arm is not as strong as the left one? Perhaps he was a victim of Poliomyelitis and did not get his vaccine in time when he was a child?

莫 = not, lack of

力 = force, strength, power

羅 = snare, trap

Ambiguous Hanzi Tattoo - Case Study 2

I am very curious about why people would randomly select three Chinese characters and tattoo them on.

Here is another example of poorly done tattoo. The top character does not even exist in Chinese characters, and it is completely made up to be look similar to Chinese. The second and third characters are fine, even though I am not impressed with the penmanship, but at least they are are correct and have meanings.

夢 = dream or wish

智 = knowledge or wisdom

Thursday, October 7, 2004

Ambiguous Hanzi Tattoo - Case Study 1

I have been staring at these four characters for a while now. I don't know what the person wanted the tattoo to represent. The only way to interpret it is to go character by character:

子 = child, son, seed, offspring, egg, pellet, or bullet (depends on context).

手 = hand.

術 = proceed, method, or technique.

流 = flow, smooth, fluent, or drift (depends on context).

The closest definition I can come up with is: "smooth technique of hand to achieve seeds". It sounds like this dude enjoy "polish his own knob" a lot.

Regardless, the direction of the characters is reversed.

Monday, October 4, 2004

T-shirt found at Urban Outfitters 都市服裝

I saw this t-shirt for sale at Urban Outfitters (都市服裝). The character in the Chinese caption is reversed. The phrase 好彩 is used to describe a good performance, and in Cantonese, it means "lucky".

= good
= color or brilliant

Saturday, October 2, 2004

This is a fantastic story published in UK's Metro newspaper about a boy with his badly done Chinese tattoo. He wanted the tattoo to say "Love, Honor, and Obey", instead he got "At the end of the day, this is an ugly boy".

Friday, October 1, 2004

Support from Sinosplice (华结)

John from Sinosplice(华 结 or traditional version: 華結) has emailed me this tattoo photo taken in Australia. The tattoo suppose to mean "Death before Dishonor"(寧死不受辱), but all the characters go the wrong way.

I guess the tattoo bearer must to explain to everyone from now on why he "rather to be a coward than die honorably".

寧 (simplified version: 宁) = rather

死 = death (or "to die")

不 = no (or "not to")

受 = suffer (or "to experience")

辱 = disgrace (or "dishonor")