Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Unknown Holy Strength

From reader "Crane":

"Here's a tattoo that a co-worker of mine got a few days ago. She claims it means 'holy strength', but she has no clue how to read or write any language other than English. Of course, it would break her little heart if I were to come back and tell her it meant 'extra butter' or something like that, since it's just two characters from the Kanji flashsheet at the tattoo/piercing studio. The tattoo artist also has no clue what they say other than the word printed below the character on each sheet. Enlighten me."

Personally, I have never seen the character in either Chinese or Japanese vocabulary. The closest candidates I can think of are the following two:

= divine

= beginning, initial, primary

To make sure I did not overlook anything, I have also emailed my colleagues to consult this matter with them:

Eden: "Hmm that really doesn't look like any of the characters you mentioned. I've never seen it, and it doesn't come up when you do handwriting recognition for it. The left side is the another form of 示 right? Even if you try this form + 力, nothing comes up. It's either archaic Chinese, or it's just wrong ;)"

Jeremy: "Tian, I think that character means: 'I am a very stupid foreigner'. It is pronounced "alla si ge siseidi"


  1. I can see how this could have been misconstrued into meaning "holy strength." The character is a composition of 礻 (radical form of 示) and 力. The original meaning of 示 is omen or spirit, and 力 means strength. However, whoever came up with this tattoo must have a very poor understanding of Chinese because that is not the way you put words together. The current character is just gibberish and no person that know Chinese (or Japanese) would be able to understand it. At the very least, you can be glad that it doesn't mean something bad.

  2. It could also just be katakana. ネカ (neka). You could also read that right to left, and you would get "kane" - meaning money, among other things. However, the word usually isn't written like that..

  3. The only way it could be ネカ is if it were improperly squished together. Regardless, this girl is boned.

  4. It could be 神力 (which is not a word, but the first character isn't that far from "holy") with a missing 申.

  5. I agree with Matt - it certainly looks like someone has taken 神 and 力 from flash, and put them together to make an approximation of "holy strength". Of course, it's not a known word, but when does that ever stop them?! :-) Then, to make it worse, they've missed out half of the first character, joining them into a completely nonsensical, never-before-seen character.

    Incidentally, I hear that green is one of the hardest pigments to laser off - it rarely works.


  6. love love love your site. i'm going to have so much fun reading it at work tomorrow... now, i am blogrolling it.

  7. The character is in the Unicode extension, entity 2560B. If someone wants to check the Unihan database, it should give a definition (I can't because the PRC doesn't want me to).


  8. Ah, you are indeed right that it is in Unicode:, that link provides no definition nor pronunciation.

  9. Whoa, that's interesting... the Unihan data does give reference to the Hanyu Da Zidian and Kangxi dictionaries... you'll probably have to go there to find out anything. Anyone have access to these?

  10. I checked Hanyudazidian. It just tells it´s pronounciation is qin2, but the meaning is still unknown.

  11. DEJA VU!
    Hiya fellas. I've seen those two tattoo symbols before! I tried drawing them when I was ten and wanted to know what they meant too.
    First, they were all over this daggy set of plastic ninja "gear" I got when I was about 9. Plus the same identical characters were in a book about some ninja comic guy called Shinobi when I was twelve.

    So yeah, I don't think the word/characters are made up. Or maybe they are and they're just widespread on all the Eastern paraphanalia and toys we get in the Western world.

    (For a short time [like, 8-10yrs old] I also wanted to be a ninja, if you hadn't already guessed. Someone sent me this link about this guy who reckons he's an authority on ninjas. He rocks.
    "Ninjas are sooooooooooo sweet that I want to crap my pants."
    His hatemail is priceless...)

  12. While I agree realultimatepower is the ultimate resource on ninja information (yes, and that is no joke)... Your info about "these two tatoo symbols" may be flawed. Especially since there is only ONE character involved.

    Though I would have appreciated subscribing to your newsletter, I'm not so sure I *want* to at this point...

    Hmm.. did I do this anonymously? Maybe not.... and.. maybe I *should* have..

    my previous post made me seem more obviously drunk than I actually was, even though in both I am pretty 喝醉了. ;)

  13. These look like katakana to me, in which case this says "neka," which as far as I know is meaningless.

  14. Oops, didn't see the earlier comment. Nevermind.

  15. Well, it's not written properly for katakana because it's one character "box," not two, as others have pointed out, but if you did try to read it as katakana,
    ネカ is pretty close to ネガ, "nega," which is the word for a photographic negative.

    Yeah, we're definitely reaching here. The ninja comment makes me wonder if the character is an alternate form of a Japanese name, but given that the only source is a Chinese dictionary, that doesn't seem likely.

  16. Sorry to post anonymously -- don't really feel like taking the time to register for an account, just to post. Personally I don't see anything wrong with making up a new character. Perhaps it seems silly to tattoo something on your body that isn't officially "right," but with hanzi of course it's the perception that it's chinese or japanese or asian that matters to those who do it, not the actual meaning itself. I think.

  17. Jeremy: "Tian, I think that character means: 'I am a very stupid foreigner'. It is pronounced "alla si ge siseidi"

    If you're going to post in shanghainese, at least get it right :)

    should be more like

    wo zi ben di de na di ning

    Lawrence -
    Nong zha de wo zi sa ning?

  18. Re the comment: "...but with hanzi of course it's the perception that it's chinese or japanese or asian that matters to those who do it, not the actual meaning itself. I think."

    Hanzi (or kanji) are written characters with meaning; they are not just pretty designs. The silliness of having a hanzi that is incorrect, inappropriate or just non-existent is the same as those samples of "English" that you see on sites like No doubt the perception there is that it is cool to have (mangled) English words, but the effect is laughable there--just as it is to have these mangled hanzi here.

  19. Outside of the meaning discrepancy, I don't see why it couldn't be the katakana. If the tattooist would draw that in the first place, it would be expecting too much to assume they know what the proportions of the character(s) are supposed to be.

  20. Apparently somebody decided to create the character out of the radical 礻 (that's the 'holy' part, folks, it is in fact just stylized from the character 示, which means 'omen', from which the character 神 is created by attaching the phonetic side 申) and the side 力 (power).

    At first I thought it is a Japanese synthetic character, but in light of it being in Chinese character dictionaries, I suspect it is an actual Chinese character, probably archaic, and perhaps has very different meaning.

  21. Some hilarious stuff on Hanzi Smatter. Poor dolts who get these tattoos.

    It could be katakana if you consider it 半角 instead of 全角. In that case it would only take the space of one full width character. ;) ネカ

    In any case though, the squiggles she has tattooed on herself are meaningless to a Japanese speaker.

  22. Thirteen years of Mandarin classes later, I still don't read very well, but my first instinct when I saw this tattoo was that someone had added a dot to the word bu (meaning 'no') and that it was the word li (meaning strength).

    ... so... 'no strength' or 'weak'...?

  23. This reminds me so much about the tattoo of one of the Spice Girl (I think Mel B.) Hers says 女力, which means Girl Power. Well, the characters are alright, but to me it doesn't make any sense in Chinese, because nobody uses a word like that in China...

  24. I'm no expert, but it definitely looks like Japanese katakana for 'neka' to me. Katakana are used to write foreign words, but I can't think of one which sounds like that. "Neck", perhaps? Or someone's name?

  25. re: "...but with hanzi of course it's the perception that it's chinese or japanese or asian that matters to those who do it, not the actual meaning itself. I think."

    after putting much thought into getting a chinese character tattooed (because of the meaning and how it represents me) i find this comment disrespectful and makes the person sound completely ignorant!!! the purpose of getting something like a character tattooed on your body is because of the representation and how the meaning fits into your life, and if you're doing it to make it look asian. . . it's quite offensive cause you're taking a traditional language and changing it up so you could look "cool"
    and no stupid. . . it's not the preception that it looks asian. . . it's suppose to be asian!!!

    i must agree with jeremy who said "Tian, I think that character means: 'I am a very stupid foreigner'" because if you're going to do something, do it right!!! if you don't know what the heck you're doing don't do it. . . or at least research it before you get it permanently drawn on!!!

  26. It could be 初, meaning at the beginning.

  27. It could be a miswritten 不, for not/negative. So 不力 would translate roughly to "weak" or "no power". That's just funny.