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.


  1. I'll suggest Mr./Ms. Anonymous to read poems written by e. e. cummings. That poet's writing, I believe, will drive Mr./Ms. Anonymous nuts.

    Tian, I think some people are just too proud to be told that they are wrong, and they assume that you would feel the same.

  2. Thanks for contributing to a great article, and doing us all a service long overdue! :-) While my own Chinese reading skills are rudimentary, I can usually tell when something is gibberish or wrong. And I've been to at least one tattoo parlor where the flash sheets of "Chinese/Japanese" characters were really sketchy. I've also seen some bad translations of English colloquialisms that just don't translate. When I got my Roman magiscule character tattooed, I had done my homework!

  3. I'd just like to point out that your anonymous correcter's grammar is far from perfect as well. He/she should probably check out the comma section in Elements of Style. Commas randomly placed in the middle of sentences (such as his/hers just before the parentheses) are incorrect, as are commas before quotation marks if what is inside the marks is not dialogue. In addition, much of his/her style is kind of 'iffy', especially that last sentence. Ick. :D

  4. Also, that last sentence should be "Trust the people who know," not "Trust the people that know."

  5. I guess the guy should be shut down for not being a native Chinese/Japanese speaker, then.

  6. congrats on the publishing of your articles!

    i love that e-mail you received.

    i have so many typos & grammar errors on my blog...BUT...i try to make sure my communication is easily understandable and to minimize the errors.

    --RC of

  7. I'm surprised nobody's caught the most blatant of Mr. Anonymous' errors. Namely, he uses "Chinese" as an example of a "proper noun." "Chinese" is an adjective, and Mr. Anonymous is a tool.

    That said, I feel I should add my voice to the chorus, when it comes to congratulating you on the ridiculous awesomeness of your site. I'm in my third year of Chinese at University of Toronto (we're reading some 鲁迅, actually), and I must say, your site does a great deal to motivate me to learn, and to learn properly. I don't want to be another jackass with 能 written on me, thinking it's 龙. If anything, I wanna see some people with some serious poetry tattooed on themselves.

  8. Hi. I am posting a general response to the whole site here, since I just spent a happy afternoon here and don't know where else to put this.

    First off, beautiful! Absolutely beautiful!

    Second, from a lingustic anthropological perspective, language as a social phenomenon is alive and always changing. The set of standards that is used to define the proper usage of a particular language in a given time and place is attached to a set of institutions (schools, dictionaries, etc) that are integrated into the way that elites reproduce themselves as the standard-bearing center of society, relegating those who live outside these institutions to the status of the deviant fringe. However, people at the peripheries have always engaged creatively with all media of signification available to them, often with very little access to (or regard for) the sources of orthodox propriety. From this perspective, the kind of creative (ab)use of form that this site so nicely documents might be seen as very much of-a-kind with the general dynamics through which languages evolve. I wonder, do you think it might be possible to see some of what you have been documenting here as posessing characteristics analogous to the development of a pidgin or creole sign-system?

    Great site!

  9. Dear Anonymous:

    There is another error in your post.

    From Strunk's The Elements of Style:

    The abbreviations etc. and jr. are always preceded by a comma, and except at the end of a sentence, followed by one.

  10. You maye have put a small 'c' on some word somewhere that required a capital. But at least you don't think Chinese is written with an 'alphabet'.

  11. Congratulations on the articles. I bet by now you have a big file of clippings about the site, and 90% of write-ups are titled "Lost in Translation." Maybe next time you do an interview, you can can point out (with your usual tact) that perhaps that phrase has been over-used.

  12. Thanks Colin (aka. Coljab).

    I agree with you about the term "lost in translation" been overused.

    The same title has been used in three other interviews:

    January 2006 - NPR

    November 2005 - Associate Press

    March 2005 - Washington Post Express

    I have always thought "Douchebags on Parade" would have been a much better title.

  13. Tian:

    I love the idea of "Douchebags on Parade!" :)

    Here's one for you to check out: I was shopping on the Wicked Weasel website for something for my wife for an upcoming vacation and I spotted these photos in the Contributors section of the Wicked Weasel website:
    Tanja 5
    Tanja 2
    Tanja 6

    These are pix of a woman named Tanja from Berlin. (There are other pictures of her but these are the best for showing the characters.) Is there anything odd about the characters she's chosen? And what do they appear to say?

    Yours truly,

    John Hedtke

  14. In response to Mr. Hedtke,

    The first one reads as "agate (a kind of quartz, I think) lotus love". Nonsensical but not too bad as a phonetic transliteration (ma-lian-ai in Mandarin and ma-lin-ngoi).

    Not a transliteration of her name, "Tanja", by a long shot, but a nice-sounding phonetic transliteration nontheless.

  15. Tian, don't ever stop doing what your doing here... there is a great social need for a site like this.

    As far as, Mr. / Ms. Anyonmous, is concerned, I don't think, I've ever seen, anyone use, as many commas, as s/he has... bwahaha.

    Too bad s/he is not secure enough to disclose whether English is his / her primary language or not (judging by the "holier-than-thou" tone of the message, I suspect it is).

    IF it is, the ridiculousness of his / her poorly written message (as everyone has pointed out) and his / her attempt to try to correct YOU is just all the more absurd.

    Thanks for posting his / her message, and making my day... haha.

  16. Ugh...grammar police...otherwise known as "stick up their ass people." It's a blog! God, I know grammar rules fairly goodly welly and I don't give a flying shit about it in my own blog (which is quite evident).

    There is an semi-famous author who ridicules people for their mis-use of grammar and spelling in blogs. This author, however, consistantly says "renumeration" when s/he means "remuneration" and then gets irate when someone points it out.

    In this case...not capitalizing "Chinese" can not be compared with, oh, I dunno, having ink branded into your skin in a language you don't know and ending up with "True Piglets" when you thought you were getting "True Love." That's not the mistake in my Chinese tattoo...but I do have the typo inked in.

  17. Regarding the previous anonymous' very interesting idea that this may be "posessing characteristics analogous to the development of a pidgin or creole sign-system", I would have to say no.

    Pidgins develop out of a desire to communicate with people who speak different languages. The people who insist on getting tattoos that they can't read are not interested in a dialogue; rather, they only care about making a monologue proclaiming their lifestyle/coolness/whatever. This is seen in the too many cases of people saying "I don't care if it is incorrect in Japanese/Chinese. I think it's pretty."

    Full-fledged creoles are sophisticated, well-developed communication systems, and even the newest, most basic pidgins have rudimentary rules (like, subjects precede verbs, nouns follow adjectives, etc.). However, the tattoos shown on this site are just wrong in random ways, with no standard rules. Compare this to the prototypical spray-paint "bubble letter" graffiti on city walls, which, though illegible, are at least highly structured and the letters are formed in systematic ways.

  18. i think it's funny how mr anonymous refers to chinese characters as an 'alphabet'. imagine that! if someone got a tattoo in zhuyin fuhao!

  19. I read the article in the New York Times and it had me grinning from ear to ear.

    I couldn't agree with the previous comments more. I've been waiting for something like this to come along for a long time. I was always submitted to the condescending remarks of sheltered Americans growing-up, trying to make me feel ignorant, and what I've noticed is that a lot of Americans have too much pride to take even an ounce of their own failings. Things like this just goes to show...

  20. wow. anonymous there is one of the annoying nit-picky grammatical nazis who, incidentally, has a poor grasp of grammar him/herself.

    whining about capital letters on a blog? psshaw!

    i wonder if he/she converses with capitals and periods in instant messenger as well. that's quite scary.

    a friend just emailed me your site via NYT and i lurrrves it. sitting at the work desk i could only vainly attempt to stifle the laughter. i'm sure i would be finding this even funnier if i was actually literate in chinese; alas, no.