Monday, June 27, 2005

Carpe Diem

Reader Johan emails:

"I recently met a girl with the tattoo on her arm. She claimed it meant something like 'Carpe Diem'. I've never seen it before and I can't find anything in dictionaries that would support this.
Any idea about it?
A picture can be found in this entry in my blog:

Thanks for a very entertaining site."

"Carpe Diem" is a Latin phrase that means "seize the day". The character shown in the photo is no where near that meaning. The only two definitions I have found are:

1. name of district in Anhui
2. capital of Yin

As mentioned on Johan's site, "carpe diem" is translated with "及时行乐":

及时 [jíshí] in time; promptly
行乐 [xínglè] seek amusement; make merry

Personally, I don't agree with that definition completely.

Interestly enough, I have seen artwork pieces and shirts designed by Paul Nicholson at Terra Tag that has captured the "carpe diem" theme:

The phrase is loosely translated as "to [rely on] wait[ing] is foolish", which is very similar to what "carpe diem" is trying to express. In my personal opinion, is the best translation so far for "carpe diem".


  1. It could also be 毫 (mao2: fine hair, a brush, something very small) missing a 横(heng: a horizontal stroke) under the 掠 (lve: falling right to left stroke) in the bottom part of the character. This may not make any more sense, but maybe there is a chengyu that uses 毫 and a negative that conveys something about not losing even one opportunity. My knowledge of chengyu is lacking so I could be completely off base. But it is just a thought.

  2. I think translating 照 as "shine" there is not really fair, since in this case it's clearly being used in the sense of 按照; thus "to [rely on] wait[ing] is foolish." Having "shine" in that definition is like translating the expression "go on" (in the sense of 'continue') as 去上.

  3. Thank Brendan for the suggestion.

  4. 照 in cantonese means 'still' or "Keep on" so Tian's translation would make more sense that way. "keep on waiting is foolish"...that's my take on this

  5. I think a better translation of 及时行乐 would be "gather ye rosebuds while ye may"...

  6. Anyone who has seeen Dead Poets Society will remember that Robin Williams uses "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may" as a way of describing the meaning of Carpe Diem.

    You say potato.......etc

  7. Well, keep in mind that the original context of the phrase carpe diem is a poem by Horace, which is basically a comeon to his girlfriend. The point is "Stop holding out on me! You could die tomorrow, so what's the point of waiting?" That being the case, the first translation might just work ;)

    The full quote is Carpe diem quam minimum credula postero "Seize the day, putting as little faith as possible in the next one," which jibes with the second translation you offer.

    Note also that although carpe has traditionally been rendered "seize" in this phrase, what it really means is "pluck", as in a flower. So "Gather ye rosebuds while you may" is apt for yet another reason.

  8. I have always heard that the Chinese translation of Carpe Diem is 把握今日, as in "sieze the day." 把握 is grasping, and 今日 is today. Put them together and the meaning is that of sieze the day = carpe diem.

  9. with regard to the above contribution, i recently had 把握今日 tattoo on the inside of my arm, these symbols exactly. i've seen LOADS of different ways of it being written but thankfully most of which match this.