Sunday, May 15, 2005

Does This Say "Love"?



Reader Sonja emails:

"Hi Tian!!! Ok, here is my tattoo that apparently says 'Love'. I think ill cry if you tell me it says horse... ;-( LOL I'm kidding... Sort of.... When I got it they said it was an ancient Japanese Buddhist dialect I think called... Kanji? Or something? Oh I cant remember anymore... I'm very excited to get my new ones now... !!! Ill send you pics of the new ones when I get them In the first week of June. xoxoxo"

After I saw the photo, I did not recognize the character. I then forwarded it to my associates and hoping at least one of them would have more knowledge about the "ancient Japanese Buddhist dialect" than I did. At the same time I emailed Sonja back asking her about where she got the tattoo, and if the design was an original or from a template.

"I had it done in Toronto on queen street west, downtown. At New Tribe... You're worrying me!! I picked it there.. I spent some time in Japan (6 months) and when I came back to Canada I missed it so much so I wanted to get something to remember my time there. Maybe when I go in to get my new ones done I can get them to photocopy the sheet that it came from? Would that help? Someone once told me it says sex......?? Oh gosh... Now I'm worried. Just please be honest.. I know you will... Take care."

The first person responded to my email was John:

"I think she was totally bullshitted. Looks like to me, but I'm certainly no expert at the more 草书-ish characters."

John does have a point there, especially when he pull out his 草书 book:

3500常用字索查字帖(草书) 上海交通大学出版社, 1999.



Ken Nishimura and Aaron Batty from Japan both agree with John:

"I thought it was distorted 'blue' . To me, this cannot be 'love' or any kanji I'm familiar with."

Jeremy from Danwei.org thinks "maybe the tattooist was trying to write ?"



= wheat, barley, oats;

Chinese translation for McDonald's is 麦当劳 or 麥當勞.


45 comments:

  1. My first thought was that it might be a strangely written 青 as well. The bottom portion looks more like Japanese hiragana ね (ne), though.

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  2. I think it looks like the character for longevity.

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  3. I'd say it's a reasonable 爱; the bottom portion has too many strokes for 月 in 青, and is more like a 友.

    The 爱 in this font bears a resemblance, although it preserves a few more of the dots of the 心 of the traditional version.

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  4. I think the best explanation is that the bit about it being an ancient buddhist dialect is nonsense, and that they meant to write some version of the character "情", as in "感情, 热情" etc. In these words, or sometimes by itself, the character "情" means "emotion", "affection" or the like.

    Correct me if I am wrong. It's just a thought.

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  5. FWIW it looks to me a lot like 表 as in 表情. Could also explain the ね-esque bit too. Still a long way off "love" though.

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  6. I think,it says "寿"or"壽"(in old style). The meaning is "delightful", "Happy event",and so on. In Japan, this Kanji is written in this way.

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  7. Could the bottom character be the old hiragana for "wi"?

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  8. I wonder if he was trying to write out Kirei (beautiful). If so, it would be a horrible butchering of a katakana (ki), and an incorrectly written hiragana (re). Thats the closest thing to "love" that I can come up with...

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  9. it looks to me like the top is a calligrapy 生 or 王 and the bottom is ね or ぬ.

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  10. I think this instance exemplafies why it is really retarded for someone to get a tattoo of hanzi/kanji/hanja, especially when the person is not even familiar with the language. Even worse; verifying it's meaning AFTER being tattooed.

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  11. I guess bad things can happen when you get tatooed in the ancient dialect of 漢字. ;)

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  12. FWIW, I think if the top portion is changed to look more like it does in 愛, then it would look like an acceptable calligraphic version of 愛.

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  13. I have to agree that I think the bottom half is る or ね....Perhaps they were going for 生きる but dropped the き and dropped a stroke from the 生 ? OK, it's a stretch, but...

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  14. Regardless if the tattoo may appear as 青, 表, 寿, or 生 topped on ね, ゐ, ぬ, all the comments here have the same conclusion:

    the tattoo is not 爱 (or 愛).

    Thus there is no point of suspecting what the character may be, especially when the owner did not even has a clue about what she got, or at least what she thought she has gotten.

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  15. the tattooed girl aside, i think it's kinda fun trying to figure out what it means....

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  16. what an idiot.

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  17. 6 months in japan taught her nothing. didn't even know that kanji isn't some "ancient japanese buddhist dialect"....

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  18. People, just because part of the character "looks like hiragana" does not mean it is. Do you think it's coincidence that a cursive 安 looks a lot like hiragana あ? No, it's not. Hiragana evolved out of cursive forms of Chinese characters. あ evolved from 安.

    (See the full list -- scroll down to "history":
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hiragana)

    The problem is that elements of cursive forms often converge, making it hard to make out the different parts of the character. A lot of characters' top half in cursive matches this character's. For example, the top falf of the character 壽 (longevity) in cursive form does look like this one's, but the bottom half resembles の, not ね.

    The character 收 in cursive looks pretty much exactly like ね, but it's safe to assume that 收 is not involved here.

    zhwj thinks "it's a reasonable 爱" because the 夂 part, when combined with other strokes, can, indeed look like a ね. (Such is the case with 收 and 致, for example.)

    It's not at all readily apparent, but on second thought I think I agree with zhwj. It could be 愛. 麦 could also look similar to this, but there's no reason to interpret the character as 麦 when 愛 is a possible interpretation.

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  19. re: "the tattoo is not 爱 (or 愛)."

    i thot we decided that it was 愛. at least i was convinced it could be by the picture of a possible cursive form for it.

    and even if it wasn't, what's wrong with taking guesses as to what it really is?

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  20. I don't think you can convince anyone that it's 爱. The top part is pretty clearly some form of the top of 青, and although the bottom is garbled, the top is definitely not a mangled top of 爱.

    either way, was anyone else amused by the hysterics of the emails quoted in this post? i hate to say someone deserves having the wrong thing tatooed on the back of their neck but... even just a *little* bit of research could've helped here.

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  21. Hello,

    The kanji on the tattoo on the girl's neck is "Kotobuki". It means "good luck", it's a positive image, you often find it in little charm things. It's written in the more loose handwritting way (like in Shoudou, calligraphy), that's why it's hard to recognize if you don't know the langage well. ^^;/

    I'm amazed at the explanation about the "old dialect", though... ^^;;; She is so lucky that they didn't tattoo something strange on her.

    Sagakure

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  22. Sagakure,

    "Kotobuki" as in "longivity"? 壽?

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  23. Jenn: no kidding...i'm wondering if that wasn't sent in by some prankster deliberately trying to sound airheaded. =D

    shi-hsia

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  24. I randomly fell across this blog as I was researching something totally different this evening, and it's a big coincidence because the day before yesterday I had a tattoo of 3 Chinese characters put on my lower back!

    I spent 12 months in China last year for my gap year (I'm English) and while I was there, I was "given" a Chinese name which echoed my real name, my personality, and where we were. I can't type Chinese characters using my keyboard but they are (in Mandarin) Luo Mei Zhu (Luo being a typical family name, mei being beautiful, zhu being jewel or jewellery). Luo is from the Chinese version of my first name (Robyn = Luo Bing), and mei zhu is because I love jewellery and was known for wearing different earrings every day!!! Also, we were on the Pearl River Delta, which is of course Zhu Jiang, so it also echoes where I was.

    I don't really know why I'm telling you this but I just wanted to say that not all Westerners abuse Chinese characters! I came back from China 9 months ago and have been debating over whether or not to get a tattoo for all that time. Finally I decided that living in China for a year, teaching English to children and experiencing the culture of a country so unbelievably different to my own was something I wanted to remember forever, and getting a tattoo of my Chinese name would do that. I know that it's correct because I was given it by my Chinese teacher (and one of my best friends) while I was out there. But the funniest thing was when I went to get it done this week, the tattooist seemed amazed that I was so definite that it was correct. I was given the impression that everyone else who had gone in there for a tattoo of Chinese characters had just had a vague idea and no research to back it up. This shocked me, as a tattoo is for life, and Chinese is a real language, so who'd want to have anything other than what you're totally sure about?!

    Anyway, I just wanted to say that not all Westerners are completely ignorant!! Love the site by the way - it's very funny, and on a subject I've noticed more than ever since I got back!

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  25. Tian, Kotobuki in modern Japanese is written 寿 and I suppose Sagakure's post is correct that this is what the tattoo is supposed to be. I'm not an expert on calligraphy styles.

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  26. re: jenn, if you look at one of the forms of 愛 in tian's post itself, you'd notice that the upper portion looks remarkably like the upper portion of 青. did you not notice that? no, it doesn't look like how it's regularly written, but caligraphic styles can differ quite a bit. that's why i think it's plausible that the tattoo might represent 愛.

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  27. you dork. it is 情, missing the radical on the left.

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  28. No, the more I look at it the more I agree it is Kotobuki 寿

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  29. I think 表 ("surface") or 寿 ("long life") are the only possibilities. Morohashi 34105 has 24 definitions listed for 表; none is a Buddhist term. In stroke number, stroke order, and overall look, the tattoo matches 表 almost exactly. But if we look at its meaning and context as a tattoo, it doesn't make sense. But 寿 does, albeit very cursive, and maybe wrongly written. As many of us reading this know, 寿 is seen everywhere, often seen as a purveyor of good wishes in congratulatory expressions, fortuitous idioms, and of course, tattoos. Conclusion: 表 (if someone could explain how it makes sense as a tattoo!); or 寿, but maybe wrongly written.
    If anyone wants to do more research, a good place to start is Unihan. (表 is U+8868 http://www.unicode.org/cgi-bin/GetUnihanData.pl?codepoint=8868&useutf8=false.) Morohashi's _Dai Kan Wa jiten_ with the year 2000 supplement is the best dictionary. _Zhongwen da ci dian_ or _Hanyu da cidian_ are next if you only want C-C (Morohashi is C-J). Mathews is C-E, full of errors, but is still useful for beginners, but get Edward H. Schafer's _Combined Supplements to Mathews_ and relevant _Schafer Sinological Papers_ for errata. Careful of both _Cihai_ and _Ciyuan_ (not to mention all the fake _Ciyuans_ of course) if you are working at premodern meanings and/or pronunciations. See the prefaces of Wang Li's _Wang Li Gu Hanyu Zidian_ and Pulleyblank's _Lexicon_ for some of their problems. BTW, I recommend Wang Li for a compact and accurate dictionary of basic root meanings for Chinese characters up to the Baihua takeover. If you're in China now, get one! Finally Pulleyblank and Karlgren (Pulleyblank is easier to use) for quick reference to a limited character set. Sorry this sounds so pedantic, but philology requires the right tools--hence the book list. I can give full citations if anyone wants. Happy hunting!
    --Allen

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  30. Allen: I'm not convinced that the lower portion of 表 would be written calligraphically like the tattoo - the loops would be concave up rather than concave down.

    I can see how the 寿 interpretation could be possible (check this image search, or more specifically, this image).

    However, as 寿 it is not balanced - if there's a tail, it's too short, and if it's a loop, it's too small. A reading as 爱 makes it an incal argument to prove my superior intelligence. Beat that Plato. That's right, Plato can't, you know why? He's dead, idiot. If me and Plato had a debate right now, I'd kick his ass. You kn

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  31. Allen: I'm not convinced that the lower portion of 表 would be written calligraphically like the tattoo - the loops would be concave up rather than concave down.

    I can see how the 寿 interpretation could be possible (check this image search, or more specifically, this image).

    However, as 寿 it is not balanced - if there's a tail, it's too short, and if it's a loop, it's too small. A reading as 爱 makes it an interesting specimen of calligraphy, if you're willing to give the artist and wearer the benefit of the doubt.

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  32. Thanks for your contribution, anon. Unfortunately it doesn't deserve a reply.
    Allen
    ah@uvic.ca

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  33. I don't know why you guys are still discussing this. Forget Chinese. This was done in Japan. And it is clearly Kotobuki 寿、written in the caligraphy style like linked above here

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  34. BTW, when I said "done in Japan", I don't mean the tattoo. I mean the drawing or printout from which the artist copied.

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  35. Slim,

    Regardless if the character was indeed 寿 or not, the conclusion is still that this young lady (and/or her tattoo artist) had no clue which character was done. She has always thought it is "love".

    If this was any other business transaction, she probably contacted her lawyers and sue the tattoo artist for false advertisment. Correct me if I am wrong, in most tattoo studios, there are waivers to be signed which exclude the tattoo artist from any wrong doing.

    This is like if someone has purchased a Mecedes-Benz, and later found out it was actually a Ford. What would you think the customer would do?

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  36. Yes, she should perhaps be disappointed. And more careful next time!

    But the reading of the tattoo should be clear (kotobuki 寿). And Tien can now update the main page to remove all that confusing stuff about "it might be this or this or this...".

    Without any discussion of this topic, I showed the picture of the girl's neck to my wife (native Japanese, unlike me) and asked her, "what do you think this says?" and she replied "kotobuki" immediately. So the calligraphy itself must be pretty clear to Japanese.

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  37. Canadian girl, spent six months in Japan? Misses it soooo much...

    Former hostess, huh?

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  38. At 4:26 PM, tian said :
    Sagakure,
    "Kotobuki" as in "longivity"? 壽?


    Tian,

    Sorry for the slow response.
    Yes, that one. :)
    When I wrote my post, I couldn't remember an english word that meant "good fortune of living long life", *lol* ^_^;;;
    It's indeed "longevity". ^^/
    (That kanji is very used in lucky charms etc.)

    Sagakure

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  39. What a sexy neck...

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  40. 寿"or"壽"...im planning to make that my tattoo...its part of my name...do you know any site which makes nice calligraphy for tattoo?...thnx...

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  41. Is this the same character?

    http://chinacrafts.en.ec21.com/GC00010344/CA00010421/product.html

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  42. Add this to the end of the address.

    /product.html

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  43. Ugh. That character is OBVIOUSLY "wheat". I don't know why everyone is arguing about it; anyone who knows Japanese can see it clearly.

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