Thursday, December 30, 2004

"Abusive Husband Pimps Me Out"

Shannon Larratt from emails me this photo submitted by one of his readers. It is a tattoo on the wrist of someone's wife.

I am very confused about why would anyone tattoo "my abusive husband pimps me out". Is this some sort of advertisement? If so, where is the price list? Perhaps on her lower back?

The Chinese word for "pimp" is 拉皮條者.

= pull, drag; seize, hold; lengthen

= man, male adult, husband

= power, force; tendency

= low; cheap, worthless

= man; people; mankind

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Badges of Misknowledge

A student from Columbia University has written a term paper based on Hanzi Smatter.

Jon Brilliant is a sophomore at Columbia University where he studies Art History, Chinese and Linguistics.

He can be contacted at this email address:

jonbrilliant at gmail dot com

PDF: badgesofmisknowledge.pdf

Monday, December 20, 2004

Holding Lives

From reader "Nic T.":

"Hey there mate, I think I got to your site via Big White Guy, it's a great read! I got a tattoo of the Chinese phrase 'Jup Sang' several years ago - just the characters - but recently got some color added to it. This was the day after so it looks a bit crusty. I had seen the characters in a TIME magazine article on Hong Kong gambling, where it said it meant 'to take a chance' in life or 'live with the path you have chosen'. I lived on Hong Kong for 20 yrs and always wanted a tattoo with Chinese characters that meant something to me. I was hoping you knew the literal and true translation of the tattoo - as I have often had strange looks from local Chinese when they see it - which can't be a good thing!! Many thanks"

The literal translation is "holding lives", but it actually means "controlling destiny".

= hold in hand; keep; carry out

= life, living, lifetime; birth

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Respect the Weak Authority

From reader "Shay S.":

"Dear Tian, the attached photo is that of a the characters on the front of a shirt I bought at Walmart some years ago. I can't say I've worn it much, since it was soon after I really thought about the fact that it could say anything. Living in a city with a tiny Asian population, I have never had the event to find out what it means. I hope the picture is clear enough to be read."

I really have no idea what the second character supposed to be. In order to make the phrase to be somewhat meaningful, I thought it might be . Therefore the phrase would be something like "respect the weak authority".

This phrase also reminded me of Cartman from South Park yelling about "respect my authority" and recently my friend Eric got beaten up by two off-duty police officers in Mesa, Arizona.

= weak, watery; insipid, tasteless

= denote a sound or sharp noise

= orderly, neat, tidy; whole

= grave, respectful, majestic

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Plum and Prune

From reader "Laura M.":

"Hi there, Congratulations for your blog. I just happened to come across it by means of, which provides interesting links to readers from all over on a daily basis. I was wondering if you could tell me what this tattoo means. It's my sister's, but it was me who paid for it because our parents wouldn't. I've always wondered what it means, and I'm dying to tell her. Whatever the meaning is, we're ready. Thanks a lot."

It is a common Chinese surname. According to Wikipedia, about 7.9 percent of the Chinese population is surnamed . As of 2002, there were approximately 103 million people in China and 108 million worldwide with this surname. To date, this remains the world's most common surname.

It also means "plum" or "prune". I am curious about why Laura's sister got this tattoo without fully understand what it meant.

= plum; judge; surname

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

"Loves the Pain"

From reader "Rae S.":

"Hi, great site! You probably get a ton of email requests... but I was wondering if you would take a look at this tattoo. My little sister got it this summer and she says it means "love hurts" I tried to look it up but haven't found any results. Thank you."

First of all, the extra strokes on the right side is not needed.

Secondly, the two characters are indeed "love" and "pain". Except the context is wrong. Instead of saying "love hurts", it says "loves the pain", as in sadism and masochism context.

Lastly, the character for "love" is simplified version. It would be much better if it was done in Traditional version, which would add more elegance:

(traditional version: ) = love; long for, yearn for; love

= pain, ache; sorry, sad; bitter

On the good side, it does not say "donkey butt".

Update: I have got an email from Jim Simpson, a Japan-Born-American, which offered his service to be in the "translator pool". Jim has also posted his debut comment under this posting stating that the tattoo above translates "love hurts" in Japanese.

I would also like to re-emphasize on the fact that one thing many people don't realize the Japanese share same Kanji (or Hanzi, Chinese characters) with Chinese, except with slightly different meanings.

Often someone would get a Kanji tattoo with Japanese translation would have complete different meaning if it was read as Chinese. Vice versa.

Monday, December 13, 2004

"Healthy Catch Empty Achievement"

From reader "Christina S.":

"Hello, I’ve been to your site many times and I have a tattoo on my lower back in Chinese. I know there is not such thing as letters in Chinese NOW, but these characters are supposed to represent MIKE. Now I’m am really curious to what I have inked on my back. Can you help me? Thanks."

I feel really bad about this one, because it is no where near "MIKE". Especially the second character does not even exist in Hanzi or Kanji vocabulary. The closest one is "" which means "catch", but there is an extra dot in the tattoo.

= peaceful, quiet; happy, healthy

= catch, arrest; shoot with bow

= empty, hollow, bare, deserted

= achievement, merit, good result

Friday, December 10, 2004

Master of Stupidity

Roddy from Chinese Forums tipped me about an user "insanejester" on his forum wanting to get a Chinese tattoo for his 18th birthday.

The photo shown above is what the young man finally got.

It means "idiot".

= dull; dull-minded, simple, stupid

= offspring, child; fruit, seed of; 1st terrestrial branch

Tuesday, December 7, 2004

Site News: Shannon Larratt from BMEzine

Shannon Larratt, founder of the largest body modification magazine BMEzine, has emailed me with the following:

"I liked your Kanji page. I did a similar article some time ago:

I have a gallery of kanji tattoos here:

If you would ever like to write an article for my zine using the photos from my galleries, I'd love to publish it.


Botched Female, Dog, Tiger

From reader "Jan I.":

"The picture is just a random encounter during a shopping afternoon - a cap with some random looking letters .. I wonder if they carry any meaning at all? Cheers."

The first character looks like a botched "female".

= female, woman, girl; feminine

The second one can be either "dog" or "to protect" depends on it is a dot or stroke in the center.

= eleventh sign of Chinese zodiac (The Dog, 7pm-9pm, west-northwest, September)

= defend borders, guard frontiers

The last one is correct and it means "tiger"

= third sign of Chinese zodiac (The Tiger, 3am-5am, east-northeast, January); to respect, reverence; respectfully

Wednesday, December 1, 2004

"Green Rice"

This guy might thought it was a great idea to tattoo "essence" () on his elbows. But by spliting the character into two halves, he got "Green Rice".

= hulled or husked uncooked rice; meter

= blue-green; young

Monday, November 22, 2004

"Exile Husband Retrievable Arrow with a String Attached to It"

Reader "Elton Joe" has emailed me a link to BMEZine (Body Modification Extreme Magazine) along with the following comment:

"I wonder why you never see native Chinese or Japanese with character tattoos? Maybe these misguided Westerners should ask themselves this first. But many of them obviously don't have a strong enough interest in the cultures to learn about them before putting a permanent mark of something they don't understand on their bodies."

The closest translation of the tattoo above (considering the first character is only a partial of ) is "exile husband retrievable arrow with a string attached to it", aka "manleash".

= flow, circulate, drift; class

= man; people; mankind; someone else

= man, male adult, husband; those

= catch, arrest; shoot with bow

Personally I don't have any tattoos. I do enjoy looking at some tattoos, even though majority of them are poorly done. Tattoos in Chinese (or Asian) culture have negative meanings attached to them.

Tattoo started in China thousands of years ago as punishment for criminals. Instead of modern day's local police to notify residents that a sex offender is moving into their neighborhood, the Chinese have tattooed their criminals on their faces with information such as name, crime committed, etc...

Asian organized crime groups such as Japanese Yakusa and Chinese Triad, require their members to have large tattoo done to prove their loyalty. Some Japanese businesses have signs posted to refuse service to anyone with such tattoos.

I can categorize the people who gets Hanzi or Kanji tattoos in following groups:

1. "To Be Cool"

These are mostly people that have very little knowledge of outside world, especially about the Far East. They got the tattoo because it was something new to them, and they liked how Hanzi or Kanji looked, without fully understand what they meant.

2. "Other Cultural is Greener"

People in this group are very intimated by their own culture (or the lack of). Therefore, they would borrow something for another culture and identify themselves with the new one.

3. "Show Off"

This group of people purely got the tattoo as show off piece. They could careless what it said, but it makes them stand out from a crowd. Any attention is better than no-attention, regardless if it is positive or negative.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Extra Love

From reader "Eddie L.":

"I have one for you. I did some research on the web but I could not identify its true meaning [of this character]..."

It suppose to be the character which means "love". I have seen some companies that print tattoo templates with a horizontal bar on top of the character to indicate "this way up". Obviously the tattooist thought the horizontal bar suppose to be there.

Friday, November 12, 2004

"Pervert" and "Testicle" T-shirts

Reader "Wayne C." has emailed me the following photos:

Even though does mean "metamorpheous" or "transform", but in Chinese and Japanese, it is also used to describe someone has abnormal fetishes or a pervert.

(Traditional version ) = to change; to become different; to transform; to vary; rebellion

= manner, bearing, attitude

This guy in the black leather jacket is wearing a t-shirt that says "testicle".

= testicle

= small round object; pellet, pill

Sunday, November 7, 2004

Nike's "Extinguish Fire But With Base"

Nike Basketball's latest ad campaign to promote their basketball shoes featuring Lebron James has made some interesting mistakes.

I am sure Nike has plenty of well paid language experts working on this "trans-cultural" promotion, but some details have slipped away under their eyes.

When I first read the slogan in the image above, it said "extinguish fire but with base". After I read it over several times more, then I realized it was meant to say "extinguish fire from the base", not "with the base".

Frankly, it sounded like an ad for antifungal medication. Watch out, Tinactin, you have got competition!

= go away, leave, depart

= fire, flame; burn; anger, rage

= only; but, however, yet, still

= indeed, yes, right; to be; demonstrative pronoun, this, that

= and; together with; with; peace; harmony; union

= foundation, base

This character circled in the poster is missing a dot on top. The correct character is and means "real, true, solid, honest".

= exaggration without any truth

Update: Nike has responded to my email (pdf file).

Thursday, November 4, 2004

"Large Domesticated Live Stock"

Genetic modification gone awry or simply tattoo negligence?

The second character is missing a dot.

= big, great, vast, large, high

= livestock, domestic animals

Monday, November 1, 2004

Anime Freak

This photo is taken from an article in November 2004 issue of Details magazine titled "The Lost Boys". The article was about the Mormonism (The Church of Latter Day Saints) polygamist compound of Colorado City, Arizona, men have a sacred duty to take three wives or more. But there aren't enough women to go around. That is why hundreds of younger men recently found themselves excommmunicated - thrown kicking and screaming into the real world.

= odd, fractional, remainder, odds

= pattern, model, type; law; mold

A more fitting phrase for "freak" would be ; which does translate to "deformity or abnormality".

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Let the Laughter Begin

Not only this is a tattoo with terrible penmanship, but all the characters are mixed between Simplified and Traditional version. The second character from the right is upside down, and last character is wrongly written. Here is what critiques say about this "artwork":

Randall: "Yikes!"

: "Wah! Do I really need to count? This is such a horrible tattoo! I don't know why this 'phrase' is made up with both traditional and simplified characters. Second, the second and third last characters are up-side-down, and the second and last characters are actually the same character. I have no idea what the hell this tatto is supposed to tell people "Speed something something smart power?'."

Brendan: "Oh, man. I can't even tell what a couple of those are supposed to be. Also, it looks like it was colored in using a marker or something."

Eden: "Man, there's just too many errors. I feel sorry for that guy..."

= speed, velocity

() = power, right, authority

= lineage, ancestry; ancestor, clan

() = wisdom, knowledge, intelligence

= measure, quantity, capacity

= achievement, merit, good result

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Oversimplified "Dragon"

The tattoo above suppose to be the simplified version of the character "dragon". Except the tattoo artist has decide to put the "dragon" on another level of cultural diet, oversimplified it by neglecting an important dot.

Here is the correct "dragon":

Simplifed version:

Traditional version:

ps. thanks to tattoo artist (or parlors) like this, this site will never run out of material...

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Mystery Coffin Carrier

I came across ths tattoo and it is obviously that he wanted "coffin carrier" or "the undertaker" to be tattooed. but I have never seen the middle character before. Wondering if I have missed something, I contacted John Pasden for a second opinion.

John checked his big fat Chinese dictionary, but it didn't have that character. His first impression was that it was supposed to be , but that doesn't make sense either. He then looked up "coffin" in a Japanese dictionary. It's written or .

To conclude, neither John nor I recognize the middle character, especially when the correct way to write is:

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

"Sacrificed for a Righteous Cause"

From reader "Daniel S.":

"Hey, how you doing? Came across your site,which is very interesting. Wondered if you could do me a favour and translate the characters on my fore arm. A few Chinese lads have told me it means roughly what its supposed to, just hoped you could give me your translation? Thanks"

All the characters are correct and the Chinese translation is "sacrificed for a righteous cause", or the Japanese equivalent of "even if it was unsuccessful, it was for a good cause".

As a word of caution, this phrase does have some negative meaning as well. It is often used to describe Japanese kamikaze pilots go into their suicidal battle.

= no, not
= accomplish
= task, merit, achievement
便 = ordinary, plain, convenient, handy, easy, then, so, thus, to relieve oneself
= humane, righteous

Monday, October 18, 2004

"I Strive for a Non-Existent Ethnic Group"

From reader "Angela S.":

"Hey Tian, I come across with a photo of Marcus Camby. I'm sure he means well when he gets that tattoo. But for me as a native Chinese speaker, I feel I wouldn’t be able to understand the tattoo without some explanation. I think non-native Chinese speakers have to understand that some English phases just don't translate well into Chinese."

I agree with Angela S. on this issue. Usually the character is used in Chinese referring to a certain ethnic group. In this case, without any detailed explanation, Camby's tattoo means he is a member of the 勉 ethnic group, which is nonexistent.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

"Did you know 'gullible' is not in the dictionary?"

Often I receive emails from fans giving me tips about hanzi/kanji related news. I really appreciate all the fans for their support. What were really interesting are email correspondents I had with “William D.” this afternoon:

William D.: “Hey, I just saw your website and thought your might appreciate this news story about a disgruntled tattoo artist. Which just goes to show you that if you're going to have something permanently marked on your body you better know what its. Even though it's pretty funny... doing it intentionally is pretty damn mean. Check out the story here:

Me: “Dear William, Did you know "Souf Oaklin fo' Life" is a fake spoof site? All the articles in there are FAKE. They are like the popular spoof site, The Onion.”

William D.: “By the way, I forgot to mention, you can Google for the guys name, Andy Sakai, and there's a few more news articles about him. In particular: He got 5 years and apparently still hasn't learned his lesson."

Me: *silence*

William D.: “Hey, I looked around a little bit more and noticed this: Souf Oaklin fo' Life! is a satirical newspaper published by Wooo Media. Oh well, another urban legend. Sorry about that, still kind of funny though :)”

Me: “No problem. I enjoyed the stories. Thanks for sending them in.”

Did I get what I paid for?

From reader "cloverleaf315w":

"I have three characters down my spine, they are supposed to mean 'wild, powerful, and fearless'. Can you tell me that's what I really paid for. I got these done in Tennessee by a local guy everyone goes to. It wasn't my best choice of tattoos I've put on my body, (slightly intoxicated)"

After I done some research, here is what I found:

The top one means "wild", the second one means "afraid", and the last one means "strength".

Friday, October 15, 2004

"White Wrist" or "Naughtiness"

I am a bit confused about this tattoo. If the characters are translated individually, one means "wrist" and the other means "white". Except, if they are translated as a phrase, in Chinese, it would mean "wrist is white", and "naughtiness" in Japanese.

= wrist (Chinese); arm (Japanese)

= white, snowy, empty, blank, bright, clear, plain, pure, gratuitous (Chinese); white (Japanese)

Thursday, October 14, 2004

"Crazy Diarrhea"

* Photo(s) have been removed on behalf of Ms. Naomi Chaney's (owner of the "crazy diarrhea" tattoo) Request *

The original photo can be viewed at

I am speechless...

Chinese translation:
= crazy
= to flow out, diarrhea

Japanese translation:
= mania
= decanting

"Power Piglet"

I have started to verify all characters in two versions (Traditional and Simplified) of Chinese and Japanese, after reader Eden Li's suggestion. Chinese (Hanzi) and Japanese (Kanji) share some characters, except meanings and writings may vary.

Tattoo above still means "power pig" in both Chinese and Japanese.

力 = power, force

豚 = piglet




Wikipedia (Chinese & Japanese)




Tuesday, October 12, 2004

"Motherly Beast Blessing"

What exactly is "motherly beast blessing"?

The first two characters are terribly done, especially consider the middle character is a badly botched simplification of beast, 獸.

Frankly, I believe my cat could have done better in her litter box while covering up her waste than this pathetic attempt.

母 = mother

獸 = animal, beast

祉 = blessings

"Place" T-shirt

I saw this at a local pizza deli during lunch today. The first character 处 means "place" and the second character is a partial. I don't know if they have any significant meanings in Japanese.

Reader Brendan points out "There's no way that can be anything other than a botched 处女."

Oh by the way, 处女 means "virgin".

Sunday, October 10, 2004

"Vegetarian World Excessively"?

素 = raw, simple, pure, or vegetarian (depends on context)

世 = world, era, generation

太 = very, too, excessively

Even if this person would like to proclaim a world or a lifestyle of simplicity or vegetarianism, the tattoo of random characters is way too hard for anyone to understand.

"Real Melon Knows Men"?

The four characters can be translated as following:

真 = true or real

瓜 = melon

智 = wisdom or intelligence

男 = man or male

I guess she wants everyone know that she got a smart melon on her shoulders and will not fooled by men. But not smart enough to realize the tattoo she got is complete gibbrish.

Saturday, October 9, 2004

Ambiguous Hanzi Tattoo - Case Study 3

"Not a Strength Trap"? What the hell does that mean? Does he want everyone to know that his right arm is not as strong as the left one? Perhaps he was a victim of Poliomyelitis and did not get his vaccine in time when he was a child?

莫 = not, lack of

力 = force, strength, power

羅 = snare, trap

Ambiguous Hanzi Tattoo - Case Study 2

I am very curious about why people would randomly select three Chinese characters and tattoo them on.

Here is another example of poorly done tattoo. The top character does not even exist in Chinese characters, and it is completely made up to be look similar to Chinese. The second and third characters are fine, even though I am not impressed with the penmanship, but at least they are are correct and have meanings.

夢 = dream or wish

智 = knowledge or wisdom

Thursday, October 7, 2004

Ambiguous Hanzi Tattoo - Case Study 1

I have been staring at these four characters for a while now. I don't know what the person wanted the tattoo to represent. The only way to interpret it is to go character by character:

子 = child, son, seed, offspring, egg, pellet, or bullet (depends on context).

手 = hand.

術 = proceed, method, or technique.

流 = flow, smooth, fluent, or drift (depends on context).

The closest definition I can come up with is: "smooth technique of hand to achieve seeds". It sounds like this dude enjoy "polish his own knob" a lot.

Regardless, the direction of the characters is reversed.

Monday, October 4, 2004

T-shirt found at Urban Outfitters 都市服裝

I saw this t-shirt for sale at Urban Outfitters (都市服裝). The character in the Chinese caption is reversed. The phrase 好彩 is used to describe a good performance, and in Cantonese, it means "lucky".

= good
= color or brilliant

Saturday, October 2, 2004

This is a fantastic story published in UK's Metro newspaper about a boy with his badly done Chinese tattoo. He wanted the tattoo to say "Love, Honor, and Obey", instead he got "At the end of the day, this is an ugly boy".

Friday, October 1, 2004

Support from Sinosplice (华结)

John from Sinosplice(华 结 or traditional version: 華結) has emailed me this tattoo photo taken in Australia. The tattoo suppose to mean "Death before Dishonor"(寧死不受辱), but all the characters go the wrong way.

I guess the tattoo bearer must to explain to everyone from now on why he "rather to be a coward than die honorably".

寧 (simplified version: 宁) = rather

死 = death (or "to die")

不 = no (or "not to")

受 = suffer (or "to experience")

辱 = disgrace (or "dishonor")

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Upside Down Dictionary by W. Eberhard

I saw this book in Barnes & Noble's foreign language section.

The author calls it a “dictionary”; I would call it a “Chinese Gibberish Complication Guide for Idiots”. The only Chinese character on its cover is “book” (書,or simplified version: 书) is indeed upside down! This is a truly pathetic attempt by the pubisher to squeeze another $27.95 from the dumb and stupid. Now I know where the tattoo artists get their “hanzi” (汉字) from.

Note: Wolfram Eberhard was one of the early greats of China scholarship...was, as in he died in 1989. The author of 35 books who ended his career with a nearly three-decade run on the faculty of U Cal-Berkeley, A DICTIONARY OF CHINESE SYMBOLS was his last work. (thanks to an Anonymous, aka Chengdude, comment posted here)

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

The Beginning

I have been a fan of the website, Engrish, for years. To my surprise, there is virtually no website existent for pointing out the faults in Westerners’ interest of Eastern culture, especially the usage of Hanzi (漢字), Chinese characters.

As a Chinese-American(美籍华人), I felt it was necessary to educate the public about the misusage of Chinese characters, Hanzi(漢字).

The idea came to me after I went to Gallup, New Mexico with my friend Matt in June 2004. During our road trip, we came across a Mitsubishi(三菱)Mirage with Hanzi stickers on it.

It was nothing new, since most owners of Japanese modified cars like to put on some decorative stickers on their vehicles. What was interesting is that the owner of this particular "Mirage(海市蜃楼)" has put on stickers of “Prelude(披露)” on his Mitsubishi(三菱), yet Prelude was made by Honda (本田) Motors.

(thanks to Vaara to point out the correct spelling of "Gallup", instead of "Gallop" which I originally had.)

Please feel free to email me with your Hanzi findings.