date: Sat, Feb 7, 2009 at 11:43 PM
subject: Tattoo Help
I got this tattoo years ago. It's supposed to be the Chinese character for smooth. I'm just wondering whether or not that's what it means.
滑 means "[to] slip/slide" or slippery".
Update: Reader Traveler was unsatisfied with my entry and offered an addition of his own:
Tian, I love your site. Though, to toss in a friendly comment, IMHO you often respond to inquiries with just a simple explanation of what some character means. Without delving into the writer's real, unspoken question: "Yeah, but does this make any sense as a tattoo?"
So, if I may humbly attempt to give this poor defaced person some extra context to help understand what he's done to his arm :
The character with meanings of "slip/slide/slippery" is perhaps the closest one could get to a single character meaning "smooth" – but just in the literal sense of "non-rough (surface)". Unless I'm mistaken, it carries no Chinese/Japanese meaning equating to the English slang meanings of "smooth" - sophisticated, cool, polished, urbane, etc. - which I would guess is what Mr P had in mind.
Often, you also (kindly) decline to comment on the artistic merit of the tattoos you present. But, assuming that Mr P would bravely want to know:
It's awful. Just hideous - yet another hack job by an "artist" who simply has no idea how a character is properly constructed.
So, assuming Mr P really wants to know whether his tattoo makes any sense or not: No, from the perspective of a Chinese/Japanese reader, it's both meaningless and ineptly drawn. That said, from the perspective of people who don't read Chinese/Japanese - presumably the majority of this tattoo's "audience" - well, I suppose it may be just fine. Mr P can tell people it means "smooth", or "smooth operator", or "Ninja samurai dragon honor", and that it's an expert artistic rendition by Shaolin calligrapher monks... and few will be the wiser. In that sense, he can go forth and feel comfortable with it!