Wednesday, July 25, 2007

One in Ten Thousand

Both Alan and I have spotted this tattoo submitted in BMEzine's gallery on July 23 by "CW351".

Its caption read:

Rest In Peace Bro!
Kanji reads "One In A Million", I hope.
(by Brooke, Eye Of The Beholder, Vernon, BC)

Alan writes:

Unfortunately, 万が in Japanese does not mean “One In A Million.” It really means “in the worst case” or “in case of emergency.” The saying is used in the sense of out of 10,000 () times something might happen, a really bad thing will happen in only one () instance. Chinese dictionaries suggest that 万一 (or 萬一) in Chinese means roughly the same as 万が一 or 万一 in Japanese.

It does not have any positive connotations at all. This is hardly the sort of sentiment that someone would want to express to remember a dear friend after their passing, but the poor schmuck has gotten this tattooed on his shoulder.

Anyhow, I still think it is very much a mistranslation and nothing even close to the intended meaning of "one in a million." And it is pretty sad that this is how the guy is trying to honor the memory of his friend.

Perhaps he has “push the emergency stop button” tattooed on the other shoulder.


  1. This one is pretty sad, because for once the owner had something meaningful to say. Unless Raymond's surname was Kikyumi, why he felt the need to do it in Japanese is beyond me.

  2. LOL. That's pretty shitty. I would tattoo that ("just in case") on myself along with my will or something. ;P Yay, morbid thoughts.

  3. Oh that sucks.
    It's not even "so bad it's funny" since the guy really was trying to honor his friend.
    F*ckin' A.

  4. Someone has "yakisoba" on their arm.

    That's like having "spaghetti and meatballs" written on their arm in English...

  5. Someone has "yakisoba" on their arm.

    Maybe they're a big fan... Sure, I like yakisoba too but i'm not quite that hard core.

    What if they change their mind and decide to go for some ramen instead?


  6. As a student in Chinese, I can verify that the phrase 萬一/万一 (traditional/simplified) means "in case".

  7. To add to what blue wizard said, in Korea this word/phrase means "in case" or simply "if." Example: "Naega manil(萬一) gureumiramyeon" (lyrics from a song I happen to like) means "if I were a cloud." So 萬一 can have a negative connotation, but it doesn't always have to. Perhaps it is different in Japanese.

    Still, the fact remains that it is not the message the owner was intended to convey.

  8. vin Korea this word/phrase means "in case" or simply "if."

    That's very interesting to know that the term has essentially the same meaning of "in case" or "if" in all three languages: Chinese, Japanese and Korean.

    However, Japanese has another very common native word, もし (moshi), that is used in the sense of the ordinary "if" or "in case," so 万が一 or 万一 is usually reserved mostly for very unlikely events like disasters, accidents or equipment malfunctions that have negative consequences. Part of the nuance of the phrase is one of reassurance that these bad things are very rare, so the reader is expected to feel safe in that knowledge, but

  9. I accidentally sent my previous comment off too early.

    Anyway, I often translate 万が一 into English with something like "in the unlikely event that" ....


  10. "萬一" has a mostly negative connotation in Chinese, as well. For instance, "以防萬一," the most common phrase associated with it, basically means "in case the unthinkable should happen." Usually "" is used for "if," and sometimes "" (which is the kanji used for 若し in Japanese).

  11. Charles said "in Korea this word/phrase means "in case" or simply "if." ... Still, the fact remains that it is not the message the owner was intended to convey."

    Maybe the owner wanted to say something like "if only..."; that is, if only this person (only 19) had lived.

    That makes sense to me, in context; it's just a pity (as with all of these) that he didn't ask a native speaker to read it for nuances before he had the tattoo made.

  12. In Chinese it means "in case", but it does carry a negative connotation, perhaps expressed in English by "on the off chance", "in the unlikely event" or even "if, God forbid, ...".