Friday, January 2, 2009

from: Ben O.
to: Tian
date: Thu, Jan 1, 2009 at 8:32 PM
subject: Please tell me my friend's tattoo means "understand"

Hi Tian,

I hope you don't mind me asking, but my friend just got this tattoo and says it means "listen/understand". I've seen enough of Hanzi Smatter to cringe even before I know how bad it is. What's the verdict?

Ben O.

We don't really want to beat up on this lovely lady and her cute tattoo too much, but the fact is that the character by itself probably does not mean quite what she thinks it does.

First, we have to decide whether the tattoo is supposed to be in Chinese or Japanese.

If it is supposed to be Chinese, a single character is fine, but the Chinese meaning of the character is more like "to bear, to carry" or "to undertake" or "to receive." But none of these meanings is even close to the intended meaning of "listen/understand."

If it is supposed to be Japanese, the single character does not have much meaning, but rather if it is supposed to be a verb, it must be written with two characters: 承る. Now this verb has various meanings and some of them are somewhat close to "listen" or "understand," but mostly the word is used as a very humble and polite way to agree with the other person in a conversation, so one might say 承ります when one means "I hear you" or "I understand your point." It is really nothing like "listen."

We guess this is the only way we could stretch the meaning of to something like "hear" or "understand" but we don't think is really what they meant and even that is a stretch because the verb marker is missing from 承る.

So unfortunately, this is a case of "close but no cigar."

Ben, give our best regards and sincere commiseration to the unfortunately tattooed friend.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

from: Tomas
date: Thu, Jan 1, 2009 at 1:08 PM
subject: hanzi smatter

Hello, Thought I should send this contribution to your (awesome) blog. Found it on a Swedish community site, the proud owner of the tattoo claims that it says "GUN" (a Swedish female given name, not the thing you use to shoot people). I'm not good enough at Chinese to figure it out, but it seems like complete nonsense to me...

Since I was busy converting my DVD collection for Argosy HV358T-00500 HDD media player, I let Alan to take a crack at it:

Hah! How on earth is supposed to be GUN? Is there yet another bogus "Chinese alphabet" out there?

means more like "inside the giant mortar." (Here, the "mortar" is the thing you use together with a pestle to crush things like grain or medicine. It is not the weapon.)

The things that people decide to get tattooed onto their bodies never cease to amaze.