Saturday, October 28, 2006

Caressing Flaw

Two weeks ago, I got an email from another U. S. Navy recruiter (I really think U. S. Navy should present me some kind of honorary award for my service) requesting tattoo translation. This young recruit got what he thought was "MC" tattooed on his chest.

The two characters and are pronounced as "mo" and "ci" in Chinese. Perhaps that is where he or the tattooist got the correlation to "M" and "C".

However, the second character is missing a small vertical stroke. Ironically, the literal translation of the two characters is "caressing flaw".


  1. Don't you mean that you should provide them with some kind of award? After all, they've given you tons of material - the only thing they've gotten out of it is a loss of credibility in their enlisted men (if there was any to begin with).

  2. This one isn't too bad, from where I sit. When the guy learns what his tattoo actually means, he can always say that he likes to hold onto his mistakes, so they don't happen again. A good story can sometimes make bad things seem better.

    And it's an excuse to not get scars from tattoo removal surgery. After all, it's a mistake he's keeping as a reminder, right? ;)

  3. I agree with Zach C; The guy could make up an interesting story to justify his tattoo.

    The truth is, Anonymous, that any Tattoo website you visit is full of this kind of material, not to mention any website attempting to get the "oriental touch" in its design/products. So yep, it's Tian who should be given the award, and not the other way around ;-)

  4. I have to say, "caressing flaw" sounds a lot more poetic than "MC."
    I had my own experience with improper Chinese tattoos back in college. This, of course, was when I was too young and stupid to realize how complex the Chinese language was. Fast forward to when I met my now fiance, who is Chinese.
    FIANCE: Honey, it doesn't say "death."
    ME: It doesn't? *braces for the worst*
    FIANCE: It says "lonely."
    ME: Oh....well that's fine.
    Actually I love it : ) And I thank my lucky stars that I didn't get any gibberish or embarassing phrases inked on me. So take heart, recipients of misunderstood Chinese or Japanese, there is always hope!

  5. Ummm... not really aorijia... this site still benefits from their doesn't really matter where it came from.


  6. The second character looks like 疪...
    It's almost... 摸屁 (feeling ass)

  7. The military is so sensitive to these kinds of tattoos because they could have gang or racist meanings. Sounds dumb? Not really, and the last thing you'd want is more gang bangers or skin heads running around with access to heavy weapons. If you are asked often, keep an eye out for recurring, dumb meaning tattoos on military members and report any trends. The tattoo that looks like a funny, innocent mistake might have a sinister meaning that is lost on the average American. Keeping helping them. They need it.

  8. For a second I thought it was 摸痔 -- caressing hemorrhoids.

  9. I am the former bearer of a bad kanji tattoo...

    Years ago, on impulse, I walked into a tattoo shop and picked a kanji off the wall. The list said it meant "tranquillity"....

    Well, the character was 安, which doesn't really mean tranquillity at all (it means "safe" or "cheap"). I've since become proficient in Japanese (and have had the tattoo covered), but the point of the experience is that tattoo shops are really partly to blame in this rash of bad kanji.

    While of course the onus is on the customer to be sure they're getting what they want -- and when it comes to foreign languages that means getting confirmation from someone proficient in the language -- tattoo shops have a certain responsibility to be knowledgeable about the "pre-fab" designs they offer. That responsibilty should really include (at minimum) a disclaimer about kanji.

    In my case, I was told that Chinese and Japanese characters are the same, and I was shown a sheet of individual kanji, each with a specific English "translation." I was ignorant and I trusted the tattooer -- after all, I was getting something based on a product he was providing.

    Anyway, while I'm not trying to shift the blame, I do think that any reputable tattoo shop should insist that its employees have some basic education about kanji, and should inform their customers about things like:

    1. First and foremost, if you're set on a kanji tattoo, have it checked for meaning and correctness by someone familiar with kanji before getting it inked

    2. Chinese and Japanese characters are not (always) the same

    3. A single character can have many meanings / a single English word does not always translate to a single Chinese character

    4. Transliterating names into Chinese characters can be tricky and the results should ALWAYS be carefully checked by a native speaker

    Finally, a word on style. What's especially sad about the overwhelming majority of Chinese character tattoos one sees in the West is that the often look like they were done on a typewriter. It would be a simple matter to find a calligrapher to write out one's intended tattoo nicely rather than getting what basically amounts to Times New Roman.

  10. Kind of a theme here. Caressing Flaw sounds more poetic than "caressing hemorroids" or "feeling ass". But the latter two are certainly funnier, and possibly more appropriate. I can imagine some kind of dumb frat guy being satisfied with a "feeling ass" tattoo, given he's been provided with beer.

  11. Oh my gosh, it totally looked like 摸屁 (Yes, feeling ass as someone else has said) without the two dots on the left of second character.