Thursday, April 6, 2006

"Lower Class"

Scott wants to have several characters tattooed on him.

In his first email, he explains:

“This is a tattoo that I want to get Number 4. In the center it is suppose to say ‘family love.’ On the left, I have two names, ‘Zoe’ on top and ‘Angie’ at bottom. On the right, I have two names, ‘Grady’ on top and ‘Jordan’ at bottom.”

Surprised by the translator’s choice of using as “Jordan”, I asked Scott if that was a mistake.

下流 【かりゅう】 (n) downstream; lower reaches of a river; lower classes

He replied in a second email that this was indeed not a mistake. He also told me he got the translations from Eri Takase.

Either Ms. Takase needs an updated lesson on Japanese/Chinese language, or she should brush up on professional ethics.


  1. by the way jiazu ai (the so called family love) can also mean incest or sexual relationships between members of the same family, this would be confirmed by the word xia liu on the right side.

  2. I know I'm preaching to the choir, but this tattoo doesn't make any sense to me. If you want to commemorate your "family love" by putting your family's names on your body, why do it in a language you or they can't read? Why do it in a way that will mean nothing to either the English-readers who can't understand it, or to the Chinese and Japanese-readers who will read the "names" literally? Out of curiousity, if the characters chosen for "Jordan" really means "lower class," what do the others translate to literally? Anything or just gibberish? It's just nuts. People are nuts.

  3. On the left, 命 means life (in Japanese, and I believe it's the same in Chinese) and 天使 means angel in both Japanese and Chinese. I guess "Angel" is the approximation for "Angie"

    From the way the tatoo is written, it looks like a quote; the ending (on the left-side) feels almost like a by-line. (i.e. "by Anonymous") In this tattoo, it's like ending with a "Life, angel."

  4. 高貴 (Kouki) is written over 下流 (Geryuu) and the former means "High Class", latter says "Low Class" which also can be translated as "High Class, Low Class". Concerning the bigger written word 家族愛 (Kazoku ai) means "Family Love", I think that these were taken from a Sociology Textbook :) The guy thinks that the words written there are their names, can't he see that they are exactly the same letters that are used for completely different names?

  5. Addition after Siu-Ba's comment for the usage of Angie as 天使 (Tenshi=Angel) s/he (I don't know which) said...I've had another idea. As 下流 (Geryuu) means Low-class, it also means downstream, as used for a river. And there's a river named Jordan in the Middle East, which also gave its name to the Arab country Jordan (ヨルダン=Yorudan) Using the word "downstream river" for a name sounding the same as a certain river)

  6. In response to Katheryn's question, Eri Takase seems to have translated the literal meanings of the four names, without regard for pronunciation.

    Jordan means "to descend; to flow" and the characters she chose mean "downstream," but also "lower class." The characters are pronounced "karyû" in Japanese.

    Zoe means "life." She translated it as 命 which means "life" and is pronounced "inochi" in Japanese.

    Angie is a common diminutive for names that mean "angel." She translated it as 天使 which means "angel" and is usually pronounced "tenshi" in Japanese.

    Grady means "renowned." She translated it as 高貴 which means "high class" and is pronounced "kôki" in Japanese.

    To a Japanese person, his tattoo literally reads "High Class Lower Class Family Love Life Angel."

  7. Oops...I thought that two 高貴下流 are used for Grady and Jordan in two only one design was chosen, right? working and commenting to a blog at the same time makes us make mistakes like this. Golly, I even used Geryuu, instead of Karyuu for 下流 remembering the word 下品 gehin=lower quality.

    But still a word used for "low class" must not be used in a tattoo involving loved ones. Could "Downstream" or "Jordan" be used in a different context. Perhaps: 约旦 (Jordan as a Country) or 约旦河 (Jordan as a river)

    *Copied from Wikipedia Chinese Edition, Japanese ones have only Kana.

  8. I love the idea of translating, rather than transliterating, the names. So how about 下游 for "downstream"?

  9. For what it's worth, there's a web page here that lists the (Japanese) kanji names of various countries. The characters for Jordan are 約但, so presumably the Jordan river would be 約但川. But this is really obscure stuff. Most Japanese readers won't have a clue what these characters are supposed to mean. As I'm sure you already know, the Japanese use katakana to write foreign names, not kanji.

    Great blog by the way :-)

  10. I personally find the Takase database to be a great resource, and it's important to keep in mind the subtle differences between Chinese and Japanese, what is written and what is implied, and the difference between the literal and the interpreted.

    In my daily experience, I find 下級 to be used in Japanese to denote things of low class rather than 下流.

    However, I think the layout is a bit confusing. I read it as a bunch of random words stuck together rather than the names of a family.

  11. If you want to commemorate your "family love" by putting your family's names on your body, why do it in a language you or they can't read? Why do it in a way that will mean nothing to either the English-readers who can't understand it, or to the Chinese and Japanese-readers who will read the "names" literally?

    Yeah, I don't get that either. I was particularly non-plused by the tatoo site recommending using Hiragana for foreign names because it "looks better" than katakana. Prepare to sport gibberish on your body.

    What's wrong with the old Roman alphabet? T__T

  12. Nothing to do with the characters, but I am really loving the idea of 'Jordan' (as in the British 'glamour' model) equating to 'Low class'. Totally, totally appropriate.

    Maybe they could have gone for a more phonetic version and used 冗談, can hardly have been worse ;-)

  13. At least he picked a nice font and not the "elementary school kid-style chicken scratchings" or the boring "Chinese equivalent of Times New Roman" font that so many other people seem to go in for.

  14. Jesus Christ, that is the most singularly unprofessional piece of work I have ever seen in terms of translation/transliteration. That's bordering on the translation equivalent of malpractice. I hope to Christ Takase doesn't actually do translation work, because if I was one of her clients, I would sue. Seriously.

  15. I love Coco's remark about 'Jordan' aka Kate Price. Made me laugh a lot!

    Maybe scott is thinking ahead. If the he stops having family love then he thinks he can pretent it means something else. Like if a woman gets her male lovers name tattoed in enlish and then splits up then the tattoo would have to be changed or removed. if it's in a language that she doesn't understand then the next male coming along might believe her when she says it means destiny.

  16. I am a non-native speaker of Japanese. 「下流」 is a combination I will never forget. One of the questions when I took the Ikkyu Japanese Proficiency Exam was about 「下流社会」. Perhaps one might translate this "society of waste." As I remember it, the passage was about the tendency of people to focus on where things come from--purchasing items--and not where they go--disposing of items. It discussed landfills and garbage dumps.

    Anyway, I can't imagine using those two characters for a name. I don't have any advice for people seeking to render their names into characters. In Japanese, katakana always seemed the best optiion to me.

  17. 下流社会 is a very in term right now, but it doesn't have much to do with waste and consumption. It's related more closely to the younger generation's views of the world and a loss of hope that they can crack into the rich portions of society; that they'll be stuck working part-time jobs without insurance forever.

    Anonymous's analysis of this tattoo seems pretty good to me. Interesting as a linguistic puzzle, but a stupid thing to put on your body until you die.

  18. Katakana? Yep, that's the norm but those cornered shapes are not tempting for many, whose concern is to look cool. We may find them silly, but we're too few, sadly.

    Some years ago, I once went to a party at some guy's house. He, whom I was meeting for the first time was a friend of my brother and almost all people were taken there by some friends, almost everybody came the same way, as a "Friend of a friend" and not many people knew each other. The guy I went to was a tattoo artist and one of his friends wanted to get a tattoo....his girlfriend's name written in Japanese. I first wrote her name in Katakana, but he was not glad with that....he asked me: "Isn't there a more fancy version?" (Fancy? this is tough), and I tried for its meaning (Translation, not transliteration), which roughly meant "Queen". And when I wrote 女王, he was not satisfied either. After a long discussion, he liked the Hiragana version.

  19. I was particularly non-plused by the tatoo site recommending using Hiragana for foreign names because it "looks better" than katakana.

    Well if you look at it from a calligraphic point of view, it makes sense, since katakana is written in kaisho. Writing your name in katakana would be "inelegant" compared to if you wrote it in hiragana's gyosho or sosho--this is why I was taught to write my name in hiragana when doing calligraphy, rather than katakana, despite the fact that I'm not japanese.

  20. Tian,

    When it comes to people getting names tattooed on them (or say, translated for other reasons such as moving or being published abroad)most seem to go the phonetic (poor) equvalent route. Do you think it's a better idea to translate by meaning, thus avoiding a personal version of the whole Coca-Cola/bite-the-wax-tadpole incident?

  21. shadowsarahkeebs,

    I would think better translators would definitely improve the situation. Not just someone that has passed all the tests on the paper, but rather someone understands deeply in both cultures.

    Learning a foreign language is not only learn how to speak, read, and write, but how the other culture think.

  22. Actually...

    I went to Takase-san's site (she's so unprofessional that I feel stupid for attaching -san after her name), and under the "Sold" section of the "Specials" page of her site, I noticed that she had made two rather silly mistakes.

    First, she had written 「愛」 on a bamboo holder; however, she was missing a stroke on the radical 夂. The bottom part now looked like a rather misshapen katakana ki: キ. (Actually, I noticed that she has a woeful habit of doing that; I think her calligraphy needs a bit more work.)

    Second, she had written 「水の心」 on a scroll accompanying a suiteki (a teapot-shaped...pot...that is used to hold water for calligraphy ink), but she was missing the "dot" inside 心, so it looked like gibberish. (Speaking of which, the way she wrote 水 wasn't particularly impressive or elegant; it only looked like squiggles.)

    Takase-san is either an imposter, or her calligraphy skills are woefully amateurish. "Her" website contains nary a sentence on her background (unless you count that so-called "interview", but it seems a little too good to be true), only vaguely states that she has been training in calligraphy since age six (no mention of a teacher or mentor), and continuously states that her art is "sold all over the world" and is "refined and cultured" (the latter of which is not exactly true, given her big blunders). I hope most people aren't suckered into buying her products, because from what I've seen, she could do with a refresher in calligraphy. Who taught her, anyway?

    Oh, wait, another mistake. On the "Romantic Gifts" page, the first product listed on the page is "Soul Mates", but the "kanji" written in pale blue ink is clearly made up. I think she wanted to convey 「魂の友」, which means "Soul's friend" or something like that, but she wanted to be more "creative" and mashed the two kanji together, leaving out の. Not very credible, is she?

  23. She writes Kanji really bad, from a Japanese taste or a Chinese.

    However, her Kana is commendable, and she should simply do all-hiragana tattoos instead.

  24. The Japanese Kanji often has slightly or completely different meanings to their original or modern Chinese Hanzi equivalents. In linguistics, this is called a "faux-ami", or a "false friend" (假朋友; 偽の友) (同形异义词; 空似言葉). To think that the Chinese Hanzi and the Japanese Kanji are both essentially of one and the same with the same meanings is a little absurd indeed.