Thursday, July 28, 2005

Language Misuse Go Round and Round

Here at Hanzi Smatter, my associates and I have spent endless hours chuckling over miswritten Chinese character tattoos. We also know that on the other side of the globe, there are probably some Asian schmucks that have English gibberish (or Engrish) tattooed on them as well. Even though we believed our prediction would be true, there has never been anyone that sends us photographic evidence to prove it.

That is why we were so excited when Reid Barrett sent this photo to us from Beijing. Along with the photo, Reid had this to say:


I'm a big fan of your site. Unfortunately like all Blogger and blogspot sites, it is blocked in China and so I have to go through proxies to keep up with your page.

Anyway, I was on the subway one day and noticed this Chinese guy standing next to me with a tattoo. When I saw what it was and the significance clicked, I was glad I had my camera with me. He let me snap off a pick just as he was leaving. Sorry it's not a great picture, but hopefully you and everybody else will get a kick out of it: a crudely made tattoo of a clich├ęd phrase in English on the body of a Chinese guy who doesn't understand a word of the language.

Yup, it says 'I love you!' but as you may be able to see the 'o' and 'v' are smashed together, the 'y' is written rather sloppily, and the 'u' is only half finished. It is a perfect parallel to poorly written Chinese and Kanji."

There are two reasons why we are ecstatic about Reid's find in Beijing's subway:

1. Superficial knowledge and misuse of language happens everywhere. Just look at

2. Asians are not the only people that carry cameras, although the stereotyping is still funny and often true. I am doing my part to "representing" and keeping the stereotyping alive by purchasing another camera - Canon Powershot S1 IS.


  1. Indeed. I am white, and I've had two cameras with me everywhere I've been the past couple of weeks (2.0MP cellphone camera and 4.0MP Kodak DX4900). However, Reid Barrett and I are both in Asian countries, so maybe the stereotype should be, "People in Asian countries always carry cameras." It definitely holds true in Japan, where every cellphone has a camera.

  2. Even the words "I love you!" can seem pretty hardcore when it's a tattoo next to a cigar burn.

  3. Hate to tell you, but that probably isn't a cigar burn. It is probably just ringworm.

  4. I almost thought it was defunct Hanzi before I looked more closely at it

  5. Actually, depending on how old the guy was, the "cigar burn" or "ringworm" is probably some sort of vaccine.

    My mother has a mark like that on her upper arm that was from a smallpox vaccine she got when she was little. And she's Korean, so maybe the same sort of thing happened to him in China.

  6. I would've guess it was some of of vaccination, too... but the location of the mark makes it unlikely. From the pic, it looks like the mark is near that wrist area. No hospital I know of would try to inject vaccination from that area--they usually go for the upper arm, or the buttock.

  7. Hi!

    I'm working on a cultural study of the words, "I Love You" and that tattoo is hilarious! Could I please include your blog in the study?

    Thanks for a great site (now bookmarked).

    Best wishes,
    Sharon Harris
    (site down due to server blow-up ... will be back in a few days)

  8. every culture borrows from another, if you drive a mitsubishi, did you know that logo on the front is a scandinavian occult symbol???

  9. that occult symbol thing is just a coincidence. It's actually a combination of two Japanese family crests.