Saturday, July 2, 2005

Dogging the Past

In Spring of 2003, Junko Hamaguchi wrote an article titled "Lost in Translation - Here’s what those cool-looking Japanese tattoos really say" for Echo Magazine, a student magazine for Columbia College Chicago. The same article was then republished in Chicago Tribune.

One of the photos was this one:

The photo's caption says:

The tattoo belongs to Marcus Gonzales
  • What he thinks his tattoo says: "strength" and "courage."
  • What it actually says: The left part of the symbol appears to say "dog," while the right part conveys something along the lines of "time moving into the past." Smushed together, the two symbols amount to gibberish.
The amazing thing is that I have found an exact replica of it in July 2005 issue of Tattoos for Women magazine!

The legend continues...


  1. I wouldn't say it's 犬過 (dog + past) because there are two dots there, it looks more like 大過 (big + past) with the dot from the 過 a little misplaced. Funny to see the same thing in two tatoos though.

  2. 大過 is "big mistake" in Japanese. You often see it in the phrase 大過なく, "with no mistakes" etc.

    It also has an archaic meaning of "surpassingly big".

  3. 大過 also means "big mistake" in Chinese:

  4. I almost thought I had this one figured out - my girlfriend suggested that it was maybe the Taiwanese word for 'husband' but closer inspection revealed it was not.

    It does stand though, that there are a great number of characters out there that are not part of standard Mandarin or Japanese, but are used in languages such as Cantonese or Min (Hokkien/Taiwanese).

  5. Wow! I saw a guy this past weekend in line at a Starbucks in Annandale, VA with the same tattoo on his first I actually thought it was 火鍋. Looked like the type of guy who drives a pick-up with either a "Fear This" or a "Pissing Calvin" sticker on the back window. I'd have asked him what the hell he was thinking when he got it, but unfortunately it was early morning and before my first coffee, so my reflexes were slow.

  6. From the caption on the photo, it appears to be the work of Designs by Dana, a biker looking guy with a long white beard from Ohio. He has a website at but I couldn't find an email link to ask him where the got the hanzi/kanji though.

  7. Hmmm... "dog" and "time moving into the past."

    Could it be referring to Mr. Peabody and his Wayback machine? :)

  8. I am a Cantonese. In HK primary and Secondary school, If you do some bad behaviours such as fighting, smoking at school. You will commit a 大過(means big mistake)in your school record. 小過means mistakes inl esser extent . So, in most of the school in HK, if you commit several 大過s in records, the school would make a decision to drop you out.

  9. That literally means big mistake. I'd agree about that. *laughs*