Saturday, May 8, 2010

from: CW
date: Fri, May 7, 2010 at 1:08 PM
subject: Tattoo


I saw your blog and was hoping you might could help me. The image attached is that of a tattoo I got years ago without researching it. A friend drew it up for me and the symbols were something she copied from a tattoo magazine she had. I'm now starting to regret it because I have no clue what the symbols actually mean. The picture isn't the greatest but hopefully you can see it clearly enough. Can you help me out please?




I don't recognize the top character, but the bottom one resembles or .


  1. I think that's "革".
    The top character may be "电".
    Anyway. I'm sure they are neither Chinese nor Japenese.

  2. I saw it as 电英. Not that that makes any more sense. :P

  3. Maybe a deformed 免 ?

  4. Second character, could it be 龟 "tortoise" or 电 "electricity" (both PRC-simplified). Obviously no sense at all.

  5. This is a long shot, but I wonder if it was supposed to be 甩 and 革, which would sound like 帅哥 (if you disregard tones, of course).

    Just a guess.

  6. I wonder if it could be 牛革 which means cowhide or oxhide in both Chinese and Japanese? I was thinking this because it looks like artistic liberties were taken with both characters, so maybe they bent the strokes to be like the wind or the tree.

  7. Looks like artistic (with incorrectly formed strokes) rendition of 牛革, which means cowhide or oxhide in both Chinese and Japanese.

  8. First character looks like it could be a deformed 虫. Not sure if that makes it mean anything.

  9. What ever it is. That's what you get when you blatantly copy someone else's tattoo. It's beyond ignorance.

  10. I was seeing it as 兎革 (missing a stroke or two on the first character, obviously).

    I guess it's better for it to be unreadable than patently stupid.

  11. It's neither 龟革 or 电草 nor any combination or permutation, I suppose. Might be dialectal but written incorrectly? I'm assuming it's 龟甲, gwai gaap, in Cantonese, but used the wrong character instead. 龟甲 = turtle / tortoise shell. No such thing as "龟革", "turtle hide"?!

  12. The short answer to the question posed is: it doesn't mean anything, the characters are so badly written they've become meaningless scribbles.
    @dvarin: Which is worse: having a tattoo of Chinese characters that collectively are nonsense, or having a tattoo that can't even manage to be of real characters? I think the later is worse, myself.
    Given how badly formed the characters are, that first one might have started out as 中 for all we know.
    It's interesting to see what parts of the character people think should be preserved, when they don't know the writing system. Invariably they're wrong. It's as if someone was trying to transcribe Roman characters and faithfully copied he serifs and messed everything else up.
    I suspect the original tattoo, of which this is a third-hand copy probably was malformed to begin with; that bottom "character" looks like something I've seen before, perhaps on a tattoo or flash sheet posted previously on this blog.

  13. bob_d: If they're unreadable, you get people sighing at you for being lazy. If they're stupid or unpleasant, you get that plus people outright laughing, no?

    And in some sense, the unreadable ones are more true to the intent of the bearer--stripped of discernable meaning, they express only the intended "I'm meant to look cool," rather than expressing that plus an unintended amorous attachment to sycamore trees or whatever they actually read.

    Depends on how willing you are to forgive bad forms, I guess. Given my handwriting, I can hardly be strict on that account...

  14. @dvarin:
    Yeah, I understand your point, but for me the problem is that this isn't so much an unreadable character but not a character at all. That being the case, it's beyond just being lazy, it becomes the most ignorant, superficial form of "orientalism." People laugh at nonsensical tattoos because they betray the owner's ignorance, since most of them aren't coherent enough to have an actual meaning that's funny (judging by the tattoos shown on this site, very few end up reading in ways that are actually funny in and of themselves). So this sort of tattoo displays a double ignorance; they have the tattoo done out of some sort of affection for things "Asian," yet can't even *recognize* that which they profess affection for.
    In other words they're so ignorant they wouldn't know a Chinese character if it was tattooed on their ass!

  15. this word is 中革(tyuukaku)which means a part of leather goods such as wallet.

  16. Yikes! Maybe the original source was a piece of paper inside a new wallet? "Inspected by Number 17"??

  17. This is a Japanese compound. The first character is a totally crap rendering of "color" 色 and the second is "grass" 草, which according to Weblio combine to form 色草 (irokusa). The Japanese definition is: 「秋の野や庭園を彩るいろいろな草。秋草。[季]秋。」In English, that same definition is something like "The many kinds of grass which color parks and fields in autumn. Plants which flower in autumn. [Season] Fall."

    Hope that helps.

  18. I think Deas has it right. The breakthrough was figuring out that the first character is, incredibly, "color," which I certainly didn't see until now. (It took 17 comments to get that far though, which tells you something.)

  19. Deas is correct as to the characters being "色草”but the meaning of the first character in this case is not "color" but "various", as in 色々(yes, the character is "color" but the meaning is "various" an extended meaning taken from the fact that there are many colors). The translation I would suggest would be "Autumn grasses".

  20. haha, I read it as a messy rendition based on a certain font type of "蟲草" in simplified form (that is, 虫草, since I'm not a Japanese and not acquainted with the language either). 蟲草/虫草/tochukaso, literally meaning "worm grass" or "a worm in winter and grass in summer" is cordyceps fungus growing on larvae. It is used in chinese traditional medicine.

    The font type:

    The suggestion from Deas and the Anonymous above me is much nicer. :)