Saturday, April 29, 2006

From Istanbul with Gibberish

The downloadable gibberish “Asian font” has finally reached the country of Turkey.

A recent posting in BMEzine’s gallery titled “Art by Vaso” displays this piece of gem:

Reader U.A. from Istanbul has also sent me these two photos:


Despite all the recent frictions between South Korea and Japan, it is nice to see a Japanese flag sharing the same piece of windshield in harmony with Korean Hangul.


"Asian theme" flower vase with gibberish characters.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Happy Mistake

Unlike tattoos, t-shirts are less permanent. They can be tossed away quickly to discard the embarrassment.

Yet, for that brief moment of hearing people quietly discussing what is on your t-shirt is still quite uncomfortable. Fearing the few minutes of uncertainly will come back to haunt you, it lingers in the back of your mind.


高興手違, what does this phrase mean?

is “high, elevated”, means “thrive, prosper”, and their compound means “happy, cheerful, willing” in Chinese. is “hand”, means “violation, disobey”, and together, they mean “mistake, blunder” in Japanese, as in (or てちがい).

“Happy [hand] violation”, is it some kind of idiom? Or a sexual euphuism for “happy ending” at one those dodgy massage parlors, which always advertise in the back of free publications? (Note: the missing dot in , perhaps the client is not done yet.)

Or it is just complete gibberish.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Ground Shipping System

I don’t know if the gibberish circled in red is supposed to be two characters or one.


If it was meant to be one character, then it would be the botched (), which means “land, ground, continent”. It could also be the simplified () with a missing dot and simplified ().

The two other characters are (pick up, collect, tidy up) and (style, system, formula, rule).

So far, the best I can think of is “ground shipping system”.

Maybe he is a loyal UPS/DHL/FedEx employee or customer?

Update: Thanks to a comment by "lalawow", this tattoo may be "six-ten-two" or "sixty-two"

In Chinese, is also used as the accounting form of "six", as "ten", and () as "two".

Female Horse Rice

Most people love their mother or mothers (children with lesbian parents and/or born from fertilized eggs via surrogate mother would have more than one mother). But, it takes a special talent to screw up “mommy” so bad that it would be read as “female horse rice”.

媽咪 is Chinese transliteration of “mommy”.

Too bad the tattooist has split into two characters (female), (horse), and forgot about the partial 口 in .

I hope her mother is proud.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Rice Covered Balls

Since both Chinese and Japanese use the same or similar Chinese characters, translations often change their meanings when they are read one way or another.


The top character means “rice”, and in Japanese, it is used to represent “America”. Second character means “cover, hide, protect”.

Last character means “small round object; pellet, pill”. However in Japanese, it means “circle, perfection, purity, and suffix for ship names” and “testicle/balls” in Chinese, as in 睾丸.

The tattoo may be a phonetic name translation or a ship’s name in Japanese, but when I read it:

“rice covered balls”

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Getting Fucked

The young lady bearing this tattoo by Juan at Starlight Tattoo in Belleville, NJ, probably thought no one would ever guess what the two characters meant.

The top character normally means “conduct, run, control, manage”, but in Chinese slang, it is the equivalent of “fuck”. The bottom character appears to be a botched (), which means “you”.

It must be nice to express one’s angst via a foreign language, unfortunately she is one ultimately got “fucked”.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Red & Black

Ryan emailed me this morning after he saw an article about my site in the newspaper. He said the translations of his tattoos were given to him long time ago, he still wanted to verify to see if they are correct or not.

In his email, he has mentioned that the center set of four black characters with red outline where chosen solely based on their looks; therefore I will only focus on the rest two sets of tattoos.

Ryan was told the set of red characters meant “samurai/warrior and something else”. Due to their poor qualify, the two kanji characters looked like either or .

means “hero; gentleman; warrior; manly person” in Japanese, and “husband” in Chinese. means “high steward; grand master” in Japanese, and “doctor” in northern part of China.

I don’t know what those three red katakana キソグ (or キング) meant, except phonetically they are “ki-so-gu” (or "ki-n-gu", aka "king").

He was also told the set of black characters meant “bitter and sweet/kind”. I did recognize as “bitter; hardship, suffering”, but I had trouble trying to figure out the three katakana below.

, “ji-yo-i”, perhaps “Joey” "joy"?

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Hiragana Times - Badges of Ignorance

In the upcoming issue of Hiragana Times magazine (printed in both English and Japanese), there is an article about Hanzi Smatter by J. M. Ventura titled "Badges of Ignorance".

Click on the following images for larger view or download pdf file here.

Thanks Hiragana Times and Mr. J. M. Ventura.


hiragana times - may 05, 2006
(cover full size)

hiragana times - may 05, 2006 p25
(page 25 full size)

hiragana times - may 05, 2006 p26
(page 26 full size)

hiragana times - may 05, 2006 p27
(page 27 full size)

Monday, April 10, 2006

THE DORK REPORT: Tattoos & T-shirts make Chinese culture trivial

Before Alaric Dearment went back to Ball State University to pursue a degree in Journalism, he has spent several years living in China.

In today’s Ball State Daily News, his column “The Dork Report” has turned the spotlight on Americans who are embraced in the “Asian Craze”.

(link & pdf)

One example he used in his article was .

I've seen T-shirts and tattoos with the Chinese character interpreted to mean "harmony." But many people don't know that while can mean "harmony," in modern parlance most Chinese speakers use it to mean "and" or "with."

While I was reading Dearment’s article, Andrew approached me with a very fundamental philosophical question:
"Is the propagation of knowledge [of languages] a good thing, even when we know that it is often misused?"

My answer?

The answers are both yes and no. Yes, if they are done correctly. No, if one culture is simply exploiting the other for their own instant gratification.

Related: China - Use Accurate English to Welcome the Olympics

CBC Radio Freestyle Interview

I have just finished a phone interview with CBC Radio this morning.

I was told it was aired in "Freestyle" segment of the show later today (or tonight depends on which part of the world you living in.)

Have a listen everyone, and please let me know what you think.

7.45 MB mp3 audio file here and here.



Ps. Here is my recent interview with BBC on April 6, 2006.

Sunday, April 9, 2006

Prince Mu-Chao

I don’t know who “Prince Mu-Chao” is, nor if that is his real name.

He first approached me via email last week,
“My wife and I are looking at getting a couple of tattoos using Chinese characters, and since I am a longtime fan of your site, I thought I would ask you your opinion of Formosa Translation. Does this seem like a reputable translation service to you?”

I could browse through the links he sent briefly and give him a quick “go ahead”, but I would be then compromising my own ethics. I even wrote about Eri Takase’s poor translation choice just a few days ago.

Certainly there are many sites on the internet and tattoo shops advertise “get your Chinese/Japanese tattoo here”, but they are in the business of making money.

Many professional translation services like Good Characters usually decline translation services that involve tattoos due to liability issues. Since there is obviously no control of how the translations would be used. In some cases, even when the characters are correct themselves, but during the transfer process, the characters are placed onto client’s body incorrectly.

Prince Mu-Chao was not happy when I told him I would not comment about his previous email.
“I think that is pretty shitty of you to encourage queries by listing emails people send you on your site, but then in cases where they do not lend comedic value, decline to help out.”

Yes, Prince Mu-Chao, I am a terrible person and I deserve to be punished for my denial of your request.

But in my defense, I would like to borrow your personal favorite quote via your Yahoo Personal Profile:

"I don’t wish to offend you unless you are an idiot."

Update: April 10, 2006 - Reader Charlie says:

Looking at your latest posting about a 'good' translation service, there is one generic piece of advice you can give out, basically you can't trust any of them. What do you do? Use many.

Basically, give the same query to two translations houses and see if you get the same result back. If not, you have an 'issue'. If you really want to make sure you are correct, you can also have one translate it, and then pay another to translate it back. Then again, that is pretty much what you do.

Several medical transcription companies do more or less the same thing, they do the work twice and then compare the two results. If there is a mismatch, both are redone. It costs twice as much, but in both cases, tatoo and translations, it is probably worth it. :)

Related: April 10, 200 - "asshole" tattoo seeker:


Saturday, April 8, 2006


How do you tell someone that she is not as talented as she thought?

I was faced with this question few weeks ago when Valerie of No Limit Artistic Design emailed me. She wanted to include some Chinese characters (she called them “symbols”) into a wall mural design she was working on. In her email, she has attached a photo of her previous work of Japanese proverbs.

Crappy Wall Calligraphy done by No Limit Design

Horrified by her attempt at Japanese calligraphy, especially when I have seen Chinese beggars with better penmanship, I politely asked her why not just hire a professional Chinese calligrapher to do the calligraphy part and she can finish the rest.

Valerie was not satisfied with my reply: “I would like to do the work on my own. I am hired to do the painting. It would be my honor.”

I did not know if I should give her the straight answer of “you might be good at painting homes, but you suck at Chinese calligraphy. Since you are so into proverbs, here is one for you: 画蛇添足” or persuade her to something else.

My friend Jon Rahoi offers his opinion on the situation:

“Wow - that is pretty ugly stuff. And what the heck are you supposed to tell her to write? She's better off using a stencil or going to a calligraphy class.

Tell her to use the zodiac symbols. They're standalone and straightforward. Plus it'll look cool to have ‘cock’ on a mural in the bedroom.

But she really needs to use a stencil – even her hiragana weren't good.”

Angela tries to steer Valerie into traditional Chinese decoration practices:

“If what Valerie's client wants is a Chinese-inspired room, I wonder why she wouldn't try to get a Chinese painting or a pair of 對聯.

I think if Valerie would look at how Chinese decorate their houses, they don't write words on the wall. Instead, they would hang 對聯 (or 揮春 during the New Years) on the wall.

And I agree with you; her writing was terrible.”

So far the best diplomatic response for Valerie is from Patrick:

“Dear (Name),

Thank you for your enquiry to

First, we must remind you that our primary purpose is to categorize the misuse of Chinese (and to some extent Japanese) in Western society, which includes the use of characters as artistic supplement simply because they are seen as 'symbols'.

While we understand that you have been asked to produce 'about ten' characters, we must refrain from offering any advice or correction on possible choices as that could be seen as an endorsement on our part.

While we admire your interest and, judging from the attached 'proverbs' picture file, must say that your writing is better than most submissions to this site, our principles prevent us from assisting in spreading the view of Chinese characters as exotic symbols that add an aura of Oriental mystique, when for us, they are a communication tool that more often than not is grossly misused in Western society.

However, you may want to enquire at Good Characters or someone who specializes in work that follows along the lines of your projects. We suggest making local inquiries as well, since depending on the size of your local Chinese population, it may be possible to hire someone with proper brushes and writing skill.

In summary, we cannot promote Chinese characters as art to be viewed and not understood. Should your clients desire a 'Chinese feel' to their homes, landscape paintings in the traditional style may be a better choice. We hope that you understand and wish you good luck in your endeavors.


etc etc.”

Friday, April 7, 2006


Patrick did not want “knowledge” and “power” to be tattooed on him in plain English, so he made his own design by combining two images he saw on a couple of tattoo websites.

The good news is all the characters are correctly done.

Although "authority" is usually written as in Chinese, but according to Unihan database, is also accepted as “authority” or “power” in Japanese.

I didn’t know what meant.

Interestingly enough, the Chinese translation for “Alzheimer’s Disease” is 奧滋海默綜合症.


Mya's roommate got this tattoo done and claims it meant "pride".


Only if he is enrolled in the special education class.

This is "pride", what he got is , and it means "[to] ramble".


larger view

What is more embarrassing than discovering your Chinese character tattoo does not mean what you thought it meant and it is done upside down?

Thursday, April 6, 2006

"Lower Class"

Scott wants to have several characters tattooed on him.

In his first email, he explains:

“This is a tattoo that I want to get Number 4. In the center it is suppose to say ‘family love.’ On the left, I have two names, ‘Zoe’ on top and ‘Angie’ at bottom. On the right, I have two names, ‘Grady’ on top and ‘Jordan’ at bottom.”

Surprised by the translator’s choice of using as “Jordan”, I asked Scott if that was a mistake.

下流 【かりゅう】 (n) downstream; lower reaches of a river; lower classes

He replied in a second email that this was indeed not a mistake. He also told me he got the translations from Eri Takase.

Either Ms. Takase needs an updated lesson on Japanese/Chinese language, or she should brush up on professional ethics.

BBC Radio Five Live

I have just finished a phone interview with BBC Radio Five Live today.

I was told it was aired in “Up All Night” segment of the show later today or tonight depends on which part of the world you living in.

Have a listen everyone, and please let me know what you think.

4.85 MB mp3 file here or here.



Wednesday, April 5, 2006


In Joe’s email, along with the photo, he says:

“After seeing your site I probably would be happier if I remained ignorant, but I have to know - what does my tattoo say? It was supposed to say, ‘Joe’.

My only defense in getting this tattoo, about 10 years ago, which I could not read, I was young and stupid.”

The three character tattooed are nowhere near “Joe”.

The two outer characters and are recognizable, but the center character is difficult to distinguish.

Typically, is the Chinese phonetical transliteration for “Joe”, and in Japanese kanji.

Saturday, April 1, 2006

New York Times and Los Angeles Times

My interviews with New York Times and Los Angeles Times have been printed.

Cool Tat, Too Bad It’s Gibberish (pdf & jpeg)
New York Times – April 2, 2006

Indelibly lost in translation (pdf)
Los Angeles Times – March 19, 2006

I will update more when I get the printed versions. In the meantime, I would like to thank everyone for your support which has made this possible.

Especially you, Mr/s. Anonymous.

Matter of fact, I have actually purchased a copy of The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White. ISBN 0-205-30902-X.

Hopefully someday I can also make people nauseous like Vin Diesel did by repeating a book's title over and over again.