Sunday, May 17, 2009

from: Joseph B.
date: Wed, May 13, 2009 at 10:45 PM
subject: Does this tat really mean this?

Love your website and had to ask you.

The owner of this tat claims it says "Only god will judge me", is this true? I have heard it means something about being a slave??

Thanks for your help!!!!


Does this tat really mean this??

The top character may intended to be (large or great), however it is the wrong character, .

In Japanese, 大帝 refers to a "great emperor", which does not mean Christian God. is used when referring to the Christian God. Other words for God are (literally "the Lord") and 天主 ("the Lord in Heaven").

上帝 is used in Chinese when referring to Christian God. 真主 and 阿拉 typically used for Allah, the Islamic name for God. Funny thing is that 阿拉 means "we" or "I" in Shanghai dialect.

大帝, 玉帝, and 玉皇 are variants of 玉皇大帝, Jade Emperor, from Chinese Taoism mythology. The Goa'uld System Lord Yu from Stargate SG-1 is based on this. Ironically the production company did not cast a Chinese actor for this role, rather Vincent Crestejo.

The verb 裁く [sabaku] does mean "to judge" and [boku] is a common word that Japanese males refer to themselves, meaning "me" or "I". means "to cut" in Chinese and sometimes it is associated with tailoring. means only "servant" in Chinese.

But unfortunately, the grammar and word order of the sentence 大帝裁僕 is not proper for Japanese, so it looks sort of "Chinese" to a Japanese person. A Japanese person could possibly try to read it in 漢文 style, giving the sentence:

大帝は僕を裁く [Taitei ha boku wo sabaku.]

The character is also read "shimobe" meaning manservant, so the phrase could also mean:

"The great emperor judges the manservant"


"The great emperor's tailor"

It doesn't really mean what it is supposed to mean, in either Japanese or Chinese.


  1. The tattoo is definitely not valid Japanese, though it's clearly trying to use Japanese words.

    I would argue that the first character is not 大. As written (inked?) it looks a lot more like 丈, making the whole thing even more incomprehensible.

  2. The first character looks more like 丈 than 大 to me.

  3. "Ironically the production company did not cast a Chinese actor for this role, rather Vincent Crestejo."

    Looking at this photo, Crestejo has enough Mongoloid traits (in particular very pronounced epicanthic folds) to pass as Asian. I can't find any biographical info, but I suspect either he has an East Asian parent or he is mestizo or Native American (given his Spanish surname).

    In any case, it's not all that big a deal to hire a non-Chinese for an ostensibly Chinese role. Even Chinese films often hire Japanese actors to play Chinese characters -- besides that I don't see how a Goa'uld would necessarily only choose a host from the ancient Earth area they are historically linked to.

    I think it's much funnier that Yu's symbol is 中, written in Standard Script, making it probably a couple thousand years anachronistic if he was to be one of the "first Chinese emporers". Besides, wouldn't the name of his dynasty make more sense than 中 in any case?

  4. 丈 (だけ) has a meaning "only" in Japanese, so if you just write a kanji for each English word you get exactly "Only *God* Judge I". I do not know anything about Chinese grammar or kambun style in Japanese, but it's the only possibility I can think of.

  5. @Anonymous That would work, if any of those words meant that in Chinese. 帝 definitely means Emperor when used by itself. And Tian was pretty clear on the other words -- I personally don't know the last two myself.

  6. Anon@3:43 PM:

    OMG, you must be right. That is sooo stupid! The bozo that came up with this tattoo must have simply took the four English words "only God judges me" and looked them up in a bad Japanese dictionary to get:
    丈 = only (archaic usage)
    帝 = God (wrong; bad dictionary)
    裁く = judges
    僕 = me

    And then they just threw out the hiragana and left the characters in the order of the English sentence.

    What a knucklehead!


  7. I think you're not charitable enough on this one, Tian. :-)

    丈帝裁僕 (Dake mikado sabaku boku) isn't grammatical, but it's fairly easily decipherable as "Only the Emperor judges me".

    There are far worse tattoos on this site!

  8. @David

    ... "easily decipherable"...?

    Bah! That is the funniest thing I've heard all morning! On what planet is this "easily decipherabile"?


  9. I was trying to figure out how the knucklehead that created this tattoo managed to get 帝 for "god" when I found the wiktionary entry here:

    The second meaning of 帝 is given as "god."

    I think 上帝 can refer to the Christian God in Chinese and older Japanese, but is 帝 understood to have the meaning "god" by itself?


  10. @ Alan:
    "I think 上帝 can refer to the Christian God in [Modern] Chinese." You are correct.

    But 帝 is not understood to have the meaning "god" by itself." By itself,帝 only means "Emperor", used as a title for 五帝 or the 5 legendary Chinese emperors or 玉帝, which is short for 玉皇大帝 or the official title of the Jade Emperor in Chinese Taoism / Daoism.

    Qin dynasty's Shi Huangdi called 秦始皇帝Qin Shi Huangdi or 秦始皇, Qin Shi Huang has the title of Huangdi which combines elements of 三皇, the three sovereigns & 五帝, the five emperors .

    god, lowercased = god of any religion = shen, 神

    God, uppercased / capitalized = Christian God = shangdi, 上帝.

  11. Vincent Crestejo doesn't look Asian, nor can he pass as an Asian. He takes on two separate characters from different times in Chinese history / legend / myth, that it's hard to believe it could be a real person, even though Stargate is Sci-fi.

    If he was one of "the original emperors / rulers", then Yu the Great would fit the description perfectly. Otherwise, the only Yu would be The Jade Emperor.

    Yu the Great = 大禹王 was the first ruler / king of the Xia / Hsia Dynasty which existed from 22nd century BCE to 17th century BCE. Legend says he was the one who controlled the flood from the Huang He or Yellow River before he became the first Xia ruler.

    As I and Tian or whoever else has said, the other Yu = The Jade Emperor.

    @ GAC,
    "I think it's much funnier that Yu's symbol is 中...."
    I believe it stands for 中國, which originally didn't mean the country of China, but rather just a small portion in the center of what is now called Mainland China.

    "Besides, wouldn't the name of his dynasty make more sense than 中 in any case?" Yes, it would, but I think the producers on that show didn't do enough research into it. So, they wouldn't know it, besides, they didn't even know who he should portray, the Jade Emperor or Yu the Great.

  12. easily decipherable???
    no way!

    丈 as "only" must be pretty archaic, I've actually never heard of it. The average person would probably associate it with length...

    and 僕? There are several ways to refer to one's self in Japanese, with varying meanings and nuances - 僕 would not be my first choice. It's almost as if he's trying to sound cute. 我 or 俺 would be much "cooler"...

  13. It seems this person was using some sort of a reverse kanji/hanzi dictionary.

    I looked up these kanji in WWWJDIC, in the "Kanji lookup" section. Each kanji is given with a list of meanings. The word "only" is one of the meanings assigned to the 丈 kanji, while "god" is certainly one of the meanings given for 帝.

    Kanji are always given with a list of meanings, even though they are not always an independent word, and the meaning is only correct when they are part of certain combinations.

    In this case, I guess the thought process went like this:

    1. "In Japanese/Chinese, each character is a word. Everybody knows that".

    2. "Let's find a dictionary that translates from the word in English to the symbol in Japanese". They probably found one of the "Your name in Kanji" web sites, which uses the same kanji dictionary in the WWWJDIC. Or maybe even WWWJDIC itself - you can enter the "English meaning" and get a list of matching kanji.

    3. "Translate word for word. That would give us the Chinese/Japanese. What's 'grammar' anyway?"

    The point here is that they were not even looking up words in a real dictionary. It's not a "terribly bad dictionary". It's just the wrong dictionary. Kanji dictionaries are very useful - just not for looking up words...

  14. 丈 (dake) does mean "only" though. So it looks to me like it says, "only the emperor judges me." (or 'only the emperor judges the servent')
    But the word order is English. Nice try, though ;)

  15. @diello

    I would perhaps say 丈 "meant" だけ as opposed to "means". As Alan noted, its archaic.

    If you type だけ in a Japanese keyboard, 丈 is not one of the default kanji options. I've done only a quick check, but in most Japanese sources, if you look up 丈 it doesn't mention "only"(だけ), although if you look up だけ it indicates 丈 as the ROOT of the word.

    At the same time, 丈 as "only" shows up almost every time in Japanese-English sources.

    I'm just saying your average non-archaic Japanese person will not recognize it as "only" and will probably associate it with length.

    Perhaps if he's trying to write it in Kambun (though I doubt he knows the difference), it would make sense to use 丈, but even then I doubt you would put it as the first word (but rather after the noun ie 此れ丈・其れ丈). But since I've only studied reading Kambun as opposed to writing it (and even then this was several years ago), I couldn't say for sure.

    My point really would be that probably English dictionaries have all the meanings that the kanji has ever had, even those that are not currently in common use, but doesn't necessarily differentiate those meanings/usages. So depending on how or what you're writing, you might want to ask a native speaker.

  16. Amazing site, I must admit that I have been thinking about my third tattoo now and wanted some Sanskrit or Chinese text incorporated into a design, but after spending some time on your site I think I will stick to plain English if I decide to get any text. Why would I want to risk getting the wrong text and at the end of the day, whats the point in something on my body that I don't understand, or can even pronounce properly. Thanks for the clarity and the laughs.

  17. @ Anonymous: SG-1 regularly uses the trope of the Goa'uld to connect disparate characters in history. The long lifespan of this fictional alien race allows them to claim that two people were "really" just one goa'uld.

    As for his symbol, it's strange to me that Wikipedia gives it as "中," because in actually watching the show I've noticed that the symbol has an extra horizontal stroke on top, which makes it something that I don't think is a real hanzi...?

  18. Using the kanji 丈 for だけ (only) is very obscure to start with. I've never seen it in any modern Japanese text. Second, it doesn't have that meaning or usage in Chinese, the character got that usage in Japanese from its reading たけ, meaning "length". And third, it's a postposition. The "correct" order would have to be 帝 first then 丈.

    But it's useless because the rest of it doesn't make much sense either.