Saturday, September 12, 2009

from: Victor H. Mair
date: Tue, Sep 8, 2009 at 12:00 PM
subject: tattoo

Hi Tian,

Perhaps you can post this for me on HANZISMATTER.



The attached picture, sent to me by Jonathan Smith, shows a basketball player's "Chinese" tattoos. They read 康女宀 from top to bottom: KANG1 ("peace, vigor") NÜ3 ("woman") MIAN2 ("shelter, thatch"). Yet the proud owner claims that they are "my initials in Chinese, M.A.D."

Marquis Antoine Daniels

My best guess as to how this may have happened is that the basketball player approached a tattooist who was minimally literate (or illiterate) in Chinese or English (or both) and showed him / her his initials, requesting the tattooist to "write them in Chinese symbols / characters / ideographs / hieroglyphs / pictographs / whatever." The initials may have been more or less ornately written, with the result that the tattooist came up with these three HANZI as his / her best representation of what he / she was seeing. For example, if you twist around in different orientations, you can sort of see an "A" there. Ditto for the other two HANZI.




Victor H. Mair, Professor of Chinese Language and Literature
Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations
University of Pennsylvania


  1. The professor gives those involved far too much credit. It is, of course, yet another example of the "Asian Gibberish Font", which involved no imagination or thought on the tattoo maker's (or his victim's) part.
    I am constantly amazed that people think they can transliterate initials... I cannot fathom the depths of the required ignorance.

  2. Yep, it's Asian Gibberish again. Although I think it is kind of interesting that a big, tough pro athlete might have wanted a tattoo of "peaceful woman roof."

  3. Peaceful woman roof. Kinda like "I'll be your shelter" perhaps.

  4. Maybe he's a big benefactor to battered women's shelters?

  5. Dude. You got Victor Mair to send a submission. The grad-school riotnerd in me just squeed on your behalf a little.

  6. This most likely came from on old spaulding and rogers flash sheet called "the chinese alphabet" wich many shops used back in the day not knowing any better, in this set...someone assigned a character or a piece of a character to each letter in the english language, making up the fictitious chinese alphabet sheet