Thursday, January 1, 2009

from: Tomas
date: Thu, Jan 1, 2009 at 1:08 PM
subject: hanzi smatter

Hello, Thought I should send this contribution to your (awesome) blog. Found it on a Swedish community site, the proud owner of the tattoo claims that it says "GUN" (a Swedish female given name, not the thing you use to shoot people). I'm not good enough at Chinese to figure it out, but it seems like complete nonsense to me...

Since I was busy converting my DVD collection for Argosy HV358T-00500 HDD media player, I let Alan to take a crack at it:

Hah! How on earth is supposed to be GUN? Is there yet another bogus "Chinese alphabet" out there?

means more like "inside the giant mortar." (Here, the "mortar" is the thing you use together with a pestle to crush things like grain or medicine. It is not the weapon.)

The things that people decide to get tattooed onto their bodies never cease to amaze.


  1. Nonsensical though it may be, I can almost sorta see how the actual shape of each character resembles the letters G-U-n....

  2. Yep, that's bogus “alphabet”.

    The first character has a pronunciation near “ju”, which was transliterated to “G”.

    The second character looked like an “U” whatsoever.

    And the third one, once again was pronounced as “nei”, hence represented “N”.

  3. I wonder if it's more supposed to just look like the English letters of "G - U - N". The top character is only kindofa "G", but the middle is definitely open on top like a "U" and the bottom could be seen as an "N" with extra stuff on top.

    It may be only blind luck that the real translation even has the word "mortar" in it at all - though the "wrong" mortar. :)

  4. I think Midiwall and Chana clearly have it right: the characters superficially, almost jokingly, "resemble" the English letters GUN in shape; no connection to English letters or words beyond that.

    Sad, sad, sad!

  5. Sorry to be pedantic, but a couple of posters have referred to the ‘English alphabet’, even though we are talking about a Swedish name tattooed on to a Swede.

    If you need a general term that covers the letters used by English, Swedish and other European languages, it's ‘Roman alphabet’ or ‘Latin alphabet’.

  6. Upon first reading I thought it was:


    Big White Meat...

  7. step one, shant pitsJanuary 22, 2009 at 11:15 PM

    Upon first reading, I thought it was


    ...which would be a pretty metal tattoo, I guess.

  8. Some people think that there is such a thing as a Chinese alphabet like there is a roman/latin alphabet. and I have seen westerners use it as such. Just remember that there really is no such thing. A characters in the olden days worked kind of like the same as the Egyptian hieroglyph.

  9. I think it means "Inside the big molar teeth"

  10. While I gather that most posters tend toward ridicule... and not that this isn't justice, I just fancy myself an optimist - and something of a mystic.
    If taken metaphorically, this tattoo, inside the great grindstone, is quite beautiful. In religious thought, hard hearts prevail in this world - and harmony and happiness are only achievable if you shed the ego, allow the heart to soften, and to make yourself fit to be of benefit to others. All of this speaks to the inspired metaphor, of being inside the great mortar - being purified and refined, shedding your shell, and readying your essence for it's useful purpose - like the grain which becomes the flour for your daily bread.
    Whether semantically accurate or not, the artist didn't skimp - they were a poet.

  11. I think Evadnia has it right.
    Each character represents each letter of the name Gun. Of course, I have no idea how to pronounce the name Gun in Polish. But assuming that it's not that far away from the way we pronounce the word gun, Evadnia is correct in her assumption.

    G - U - N
    ju jiu nei

    The phonetic translation was obviously done by a non-Chinese person who isn't incredibly familiar with the sounds in the Chinese language.