Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Music is Life


means “music is life” in Chinese.

If so, having the phrase partially tattooed, would that be the equivalent to “tone-deaf” of life?


  1. At least it's a phrase that makes sense and more easily curable with just one stroke on the left.

  2. I'd just call that bad calligraphy. It looks like the "artist" was trying to make the movement more brush-like by mixing the downward stroke with the down-left stroke. The spacing is all wrong, and it turns out looking stupid.


  3. At least it's a phrase that makes sense and more easily curable with just one stroke on the left.

    Not quite.

    We must assume that the wearer is a musician and this tattoo is intended to declare their dedication to music as their whole life. It is quite true that 音乐是生命 means “music is life” (in a very literal, dictionary sense) but I might prefer a bit more poetic or philosophical word for “life.” 生命 seems to mean life in more the biological sense as in the phenomenon of life. I might prefer 人生 to 生命 in the sense intended by the original English.

    Also, it is peculiar to use the simplified form 乐 instead of 楽 or 樂 in art like this. True, the 乐 form does come from calligraphy, but if a calligraphic form of this character is to be used, then more flowing, calligraphic forms of the other characters should also be used to express this sort of poetic or philosophical sentiment.

    Perhaps this would be better:

    Japanese has a colloquial phrase
    馬鹿は死んで直る or
    It is not very PC, but means
    “death is the only cure for a fool.” The best thing for this tattoo might just be to laser it and start over.

  4. To Alan,

    As a reader of hanzismatter, I know that you're a Japanese translator, whose participation (including solving the mystery of the Asian font) is very valuable and I learn from you a lot. I don't know much about your knowledge of Chinese, so I think the 生命 word could have been more like the sense you are meaning in a Chinese context. Or this might be the ultimate word for life....but that's a smaller possibility. As you mentioned too, there's 人生 for life as a phenomenon, 生命 for physical life and 生涯 for lifetime (mostly used for biographies) in Japanese for instance. Chinese would not be any different and I don't know if the word written there is wrong or right, because different countries using Chinese characters are using them in very different contexts (e.g. the meaning of 手紙 is "letter (mail)" in Japanese and "Toilet paper" in Chinese.) Of course if you say you're also a Sinophone (not necessarily at a translator's level) I'll take all my words back.

    This guy might have been just a die-hard music fan, not a musician by the way. As for Simp/Trad thing...no comment (everyone has one's own view on that)

  5. To Ulas:

    You are quite right. As a professional Japanese translator, I am an expert at reading and writing Japanese, but not Chinese. My knowledge of Chinese is probably heavily colored by my exposure through Japanese. I did study a little Chinese in college, though, as well as calligraphy in Japan.

    I merely made some suggestions from my experience. Perhaps they may be helpful and perhaps not. I don't really know the exact nuances and connotations of the words 生命 and 人生 in modern Chinese, although I am open to hear what others have to say.

    My main point is that I agree completely with slaserx. The “missing” stroke to the left is probably there, but had been combined with the “tail” of the downward stroke.

    So simply adding another stroke to the left will not cure the problems and make this bad Chinese tattoo into a good one.

  6. Oh, by the way, I think the simplest way to say “music is life” in Japanese would be

  7. Alan,

    Thanks for the reply and feedback....my reply was a kind of my interperation for your opinion. I looked at the tattoo in a meaning-wise, not quite in a calligraphy-wise sense (though maybe I should have) Looking calligraphy-wise, yep, this tattoo is so poorly written. Characters are unorderly, some leaning sidewards etc.

    I see your point, probably you're right about your suggestions. Let's wait for our Chinese / Sinophone friends then for the meaning of "Life" character.

    About your Japanese suggestion 命 (inochi) and 人生 (jinsei) both are easily applicable for Japanese.

    Goodbye for now!

  8. As a student of both C and J, I have to say that it's pretty amazing how much difference there can be between the two langauges -- much more than I expected starting out in Chinese (I came from Japanese)... Surely one was based on the other, and at least at one point in history the meaning of a word in one langauge was the exact same as its meaning in another?

    But this doesn't seem like the case at all... in fact at times it's almost as if you gave two completely different people total knowledge of Chinese characters and then asked them to create a language from them... which ones would they use and how?

    An example: 刷牙 = brush teeth... that's barely even intelligible to a J person... It's not as if Chinese doesn't HAVE the word 歯 -- they just don't use it here. I'm not an etymologist so I don't know why this is, but for whatever reason, there's more than enough semantic flexibilty that 生命 could easily mean 人生... or maybe even something else altogether. It makes it a blast to learn... either that or annoying. Depends on who you are.

  9. Seems to me either A“音乐人生“ or B"音樂是(我的)生命" would be perfect.
    A is merely a phrase,(literal!) means "the life of music", nB is a grammatically complete setence, while Either in Chinese/Eng.,we'd say "Music is MY life.",rather than "Music is life", don't we?

    But I'm afraid there's just no reason y we use 人生 in A,or 生命 in B, let's just take it as the tricky part in language learning.

    Anyway you guys really adorable.

  10. Seems to me either A “音乐人生” or B “音樂是(我的)生命” would be perfect.
    A is merely a phrase, (literal!) means “the life of music”, B is a grammatically complete setence, while Either in Chinese/Eng.,we'd say “Music is MY life.”, rather than “Music is life”, don't we?

    Thanks, Amber. I very much like your A. The full B might be a tad long to fit on a tattoo. ;-)

    You make a very good point. In ordinary speech, we would certainly say “music is my life.”

    However, the owner of the tattoo may have wanted to make a more poetic or philosophical statement that is something along the lines of “music is the essence of life” or “life itself cannot exist without music.”

    Thus, s/he deliberately chose the statement “music is life” which is somewhat absurd and nonsensical when read literally. This deliberate absurdity forces the reader to try to understand the deeper meaning. Unfortunately, this sort of thing does not always translate well, and it may just sound, well, absurd and silly when translated.

    Therein lies the risks of trying to use a translated phrase for this sort of thing, rather than searching for a more appropriate phrase native to the target language that conveys the desired sentiment.

    Anyway you guys really adorable.

    You're quite charming yourself too...

  11. I'm not sure, but I think the phrase as it is tattooed was the old slogan for Tower Records in Taiwan.

  12. I'm not finding "歯" in Chinese anywhere -- I've looked under both "止" and "米" at zhongwen.com and in my hard-copy simplified Chinese dictionary.

    What am I missing?

    Also, "X is life" is an idiom or a colloquial usage or something. See Search engine results for "is life", wherein X="rock," "Art," "Sheep" (?), "Garlic," "Guitar," etc.

    Often, but not always, the "is life" is followed by, "the rest is just details."

  13. I'm not finding "" in Chinese anywhere -- I've looked under both "" and "" at zhongwen.com and in my hard-copy simplified Chinese dictionary.

    What am I missing?

    That is because 歯 is the Japanese simplified equivalent of 齒 [Traditional] or 齿 [Chinese simplified]. It appears as its own radical with 15 strokes at zhongwen.com.

    Good luck!


  14. I'd have thought it might be better rendered 音樂為命.

  15. amida might be right on this one, the Tower Records slogan last year in Japan was written "のーみゅじくのーらいふ" (no music no life)so the tattoo may be the equivalent Chinese slogan. What's interesting in the Japanese slogan is the intentional use of hiragana only and the awkward phrasing (very 'un-Japanese') gramatically which seem to be intended to give it a 'hip' Western feel.