Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Washington Post Express "Lost in Translation"

Chris Mincher of Washington Post has written an article about me and Hanzi Smatter in today's paper (pg. 28).

I especially enjoyed the upper right corner insert "Hanzi Goes Hollywood" and it talked about Britney Spears's tattoo. Apparently in 2002, she got a Kanji tattoo that she thought meant "mysterious", but actually meant "strange" (The Mirror UK).

Thanks to everyone for your support and help!


tiangotlost at gmail dot com

"Lost In Translation" (Adobe PDF)

Article Only:

(260 KB at hanzismatter.com)

Full Paper:

EXPRESS_03012005.pdf (8.02 MB at washingtonpost.com)
washingtonpostexpress_03012005.pdf (8.02 MB at hanzismatter.com)


  1. I saw this article and enjoyed it alot. I hope it lets people into your site and to think about appropriating the words of other cultures. Of course, the article didn't mention it, but should have, this problem is certainly not limited to Westerners using Asian characters. Any trip through the isles of an asian grocery store with product names like "Sweat," or "Boss" or "Diet Water" or any other combination of odd English word combinations for products has been chosen. I've even seen this in France where young kids will run around with "street wear" that has oddly appropriated word that might seem like American slang but really just reads as nonesense. It's a global 'problem' in a media drenched world where the other is both more accessible and alluring but still not understood.
    -- Christopher

  2. Christopher,

    You are absolutely correct about that. Engrish.com has plenty of examples. I have link to their site posted on my site, and they link to my site posted on their page as well.

    http://engrish.com/links.php#reverseIt is like karma: "what goes around, comes around".

  3. Well done, Tian!

    Nice to see the recognition of your efforts.

    Hopefully more westerners will check out your site before making the mistake of scrawling gibberish into their flesh.

    In all my years in Hong Kong, I've never seen a Chinese person with English tattoos.

    Many of the tattooed folks around here are triads, and most of them keep covered up to avoid police scrutiny.

    Hong Kong

  4. Great to see this site recognized. Congrats.

  5. Congratulation, Tian! :)

    Christopher is right by saying that the problem is not limited to Westerners using Asian characters. Otherwise, sites like Engrish.com won't exit! The truth is, when it comes to language, a lot of people are only 一知半解. :)

  6. Congratulations, Tian.

    Christopher, you made a good point about the "global problem". We could pay a little more attention to other cultures and languages when using it. If you don't know the scripting system and what those characters mean, you should at least ask somebody familiar with those.

    Having said that, I don't think this is a new phenomenon. Languages interfere each other. Any language at any given time is full of misuse of foreign words, don't you think? Engrish.org and Hanzi Smatter just show one of the aspects where those interference is ongoing.

    Pure aesthetic appreciation to other characters itself cannot be that bad. Much better than ignoring them all. Mutual understanding starts with interest in one another.

    If it looks cool, mimic it and mess it up. Then, learn it. I don't see any problematic attitude here. Am I being too naive? That's how I learnt English and how, I guess, Japanese learnt Chinese characters some thousand years ago.

  7. Hello! Italy calling!
    It's been a long time since I started following your blog. A friend of mine gave me your link when I told him I decided to have a Kanji tattoo done on my ankle... well that tattoo is still in my dreams since I'm scared to death after reading your blog daily! *laughs*
    Kanji and Hanzi tattoos are very common in Europe aswell.

    About the article... well done Tian. ;) Congrats!

  8. Glad to see you getting more press, Tian!

  9. Congratulations again, Tian!

    Excellent point, Ken. I'd been thinking this myself. No matter how totally botched the Hanzi / English / Arabic / whatever is, I'd much rather have "enthusiastic and hamfisted" than "totally indifferent". The first problem is usually a lot easier to correct than the latter.

  10. Hey Ken N.:

    Since there is more than one Ken here, may I suggest we end our comments with an initial? :)

    - Ken L.

  11. I live in DC area, and enjoyed reading this article in EXPRESS. By the way, do you know which kanji Britney used for her tatto which she believed meant "mysterious," but actually meant "strange?" Is that "奇"?

  12. Keicho,

    Britney Spears did get 奇 tattooed on her:




    I have actually met the tattoo artist that gave her the "strange" tattoo.

    He works at Mill Ave. Ink, here in Tempe, Arizona.

    He refused to let me take a photo of him nor answer my questions about if he knew what the character meant.

  13. I suppose Britney can "fix" her tattoo by adding a character to it, which could yield a similar meaning to what she originally intended, such as 神奇 or 奇幻...

  14. Hi Ken L.

    Nice name you got there, hehehe.
    Glad to have such an international name.
    I will use Ken N. or Ken in Tokyo or something next time.


  15. Great job!
    What is with "hanzis and kanjis" though? Is hanzi not plural enough for them? Not that I haven't tacked an "s" on a word when speaking Chinglish, but I'm not writing for the Washington Post.