Sunday, April 24, 2011

from: Redd G.
date: Fri, Apr 22, 2011 at 9:35 PM
subject: tat translation...

She is a moron... so I'm wondering if her tattoo really says "love is a slow form of suicide".

If it does, I will be nothing short of shocked...

I have consulted this with Alan, and this is what he had to say about the tattoo:

The tattoo is properly written in Japanese (except for the horizontal line in フォーム which should be vertical in vertical writing like this).


But this is rather puzzling and difficult to understand.

It literally means:

"Love is a late form of suicide."

"Late" is really supposed to be "slow" (遅い can mean either) so I guess this really was intended to be a translation of "Love is a slow form of suicide."

The word フォーム is borrowed from the English word "form," but in Japanese this word is usually used only for paper "forms" or such. It certainly would not appear in a poem in the intended sense of the word "form." A different Japanese word would be used for that. Since the "paper form" word is used, a Japanese person reading this would be very confused about what a "late form" is and what it has to do with love or suicide.

My guess is that someone just threw the sentence "Love is a slow form of suicide." into Google translate, translated into Japanese and tattooed the puzzling results onto the arm of the unsuspecting customer.


  1. Ah, Google translate. The perfect translation tool for morons.

  2. @ Anonymous:

    Even though "Google translate is the perfect translation tool for morons," it is also amazing how many people don't even try to check that resource before inking their body with something.

  3. Yep, love is a late document of suicide. Alan has it exactly right.

  4. Not to mention that the ー written horizontally instead of vertically looks really weird, and like a 一, adding to the confusion.

  5. out of curiosity, what's a better translation? 愛は遅い自殺の一つ is the closest I can get but doesn't sound quite right..

    (it escapes me why people tag themselves with such sentimental tosh, but that's another matter)

  6. Well, poor little (and dumb) girl... as Umlud said, if you are going to tatoo any foreign language word in your body, you have to do your homework and research extensively if the words that you are going to ink in your skin actually mean what you think they mean. Always ask a teacher or a native about those words: ask people that actually know!

  7. I don't usually translate into Japanese (I usually translate from Japanese to English), but maybe I can do a little better than Google Translate ;-). First, we ought to change "form" to something like "method" which is easier to translate. And we need to get away from the slow/late ambiguity of 遅い. So let me try this as a translation:
    Ai ha jikan ga kakaru jisatsu no houhou desu.

    This is literally "Love is a method of suicide that takes a lot of time."

    Feel free to beat up on it and make it better.

  8. Something was bothering me about 方法 in my tentative translation. It just doesn't "sound" right. I think rather than 方法, 手法 (literally "technique") might be better. So how about this?

    Ai ha jikan ga kakaru jisatsu no shuhou desu.

    So "Love is a suicide technique that takes a long time."

  9. How about:


  10. Using a bit of poetic license I ended up with this:

    Ai wa ki no nagai jisatsu de aru.
    "Love is patient suicide."

    I stumbled across a few instances of 気の長い自殺 through google, so I don't really know if it's widely used or how natural it sounds, but I kind of like the sound of it. Another possibility would be 息の長い自殺, which more captures the 'prolonged' or 'long-winded' meaning of slow.

    I dropped the method/form part since it just seemed to bog down the Japanese sentence. My (admittedly still limited) sense for the language says it's more natural without it.

    である instead of です is just to give it a little more of an edge, since it is about suicide after all, and add sort of a "old wisdom" touch. Maybe it feels too highfalutin, but I have a weakness for that kind of stuff so...

  11. Well, I'd like to point out that almost always -- barring a few interesting dated and grammatical forms -- 遅く is late, and 遅い actually is slow. I think it's an overstatement to say a Japanese person couldn't work out what it means, but it sounds very stilted and English-like (rather than natively Japanese). I kinda like 愛し方が静々自殺である。 I kept the である cuz it does have that nice poetic tinge, and you could really choose any "slowly" adverb but I went with 静静/静々 which is quietly or slowly (and again largely for poetic reasons). 愛し方 just sounds better to me for talking about love as a form of something else. Hokey emo tattoo no work.

  12. 静々sounds to my ears more like a wabi/sabi sort of quietly dignified action, rather opposed to the sense I get from the English original. The meaning I infer from the word "slow" in the original is more of an agonizing, drawn-out thing. Also, 愛し方...である sounds to me more like a kotowaza, a piece of received wisdom or advice (the way to love is...), rather than an ironic commentary, which is what I take from the original. I don't think it's necessary to struggle so much with the phrase "love is". The simple 「愛は。。。である」 or 「恋愛」 is pithy and accurate. If you feel it necessary, something like 「愛の生活」 sounds better to my ears. Your mileage may vary.

  13. Some of the bad hanzi/kanji tattoos on this blog are almost endearing. That one is just awful.

  14. Late to the translation party, but my 辞書 gives フォーム as being unrelated to document-type forms and the like:

    フォーム『form 』
    1 形。外形。また、形式。様式。
    2 スポッツなどで、運動をしているときの姿勢。「滑降の—がくずれる」「打撃—」

    Now, I haven't lived in Japan so I don't know if day-to-day usage of フォーム is in fact not represented by this definition; but it seems strange that it would not be. And while this still doesn't quite work perfectly, idiomatically speaking, it's much closer (and would make the tattoo much less foolish) than was described in the blog post.

    Frankly, this tattoo seems much better than the vast majority I see on this site. The characters all seem to be written correctly, for one. Secondly, you can more or less make out what it means, especially when considering フォーム as being like 形式 rather than 用紙.

    And, while I'm at it, here's my attempt at a translation into 日本語:


    (Re 手法: it doesn't really seem right, that is more for describing a artistic or technical skill, no? Although maybe I'm just not being poetic enough, haha...)

    That is simpler and much less poetic than some of the above suggestions but feels more Japanese to me. I will ask some Japanese people what they think, now I'm curious...

  15. Anon @May 31, 2011 10:15 PM:
    I think your 辞書 is fine. Please look up 様式 while you are at it. You should find that this refers to paper "forms" like legal forms and bureaucratic forms you have to fill out at the city or ward office or such.

    It is also true that フォーム is used as the word for a pitching "form" or batting "form" or other types of forms in sports. But these meanings also have nothing to do with the intended meaning.

  16. Well, a reasonable test of a translated phrase is to translate it back and see if it makes sense in light of the original. 愛で自殺するのは遅いやり方だ。"Committing suicide by love is a slow process." This is undoubtedly true, but I can't get from that assertion back to "Love is a slow form of suicide." The original is saying something about love, not about suicide. Shifting the subject around alters the meaning.

    Two more points: The way "form" as used in the English sentence seems to be causing confusion. Think about what it means. A "type" of suicide. Not a method, not a process, not a technique, but a category. Secondly, think about what the word "slow" in the original connotes. To me, it means "protracted", with the nuance that it is something painfully prolonged. Therein lies the irony: Love is turned on its head into something normally considered agonizing. If the irony implicit in the original is lost, the translation fails to convey its meaning.

  17. Please look up 様式 while you are at it. You should find that this refers to paper "forms" like legal forms and bureaucratic forms you have to fill out at the city or ward office or such.

    I don't see that:

    ☞ スタイル•流儀•形(かた)•式

    ...but again, I don't live in Japan so perhaps there is a daily usage that is outside this dictionary's definition (I could see that perhaps derived from the 3rd definition)?

    Regardless, it would be very strange to have a word with a completely different intended meaning than the previous three in one dictionary definition (フォーム『form 』1 形。外形。また、形式。様式。) So, as far as I can tell (again, unless there is a day-to-day usage outside this definition's listed items), the Japanese word フォーム does not, in fact, refer to documents of any sort.

    Certainly, "form" in the sense of process vs. category is not right, but you'd have to admit it fits much better than "paper document you fill out," no? My basic point, which stands, is that the editorializing in this post was based on an incorrect point. Granted, there's still plenty bad to say about this tattoo...

    If the irony implicit in the original is lost, the translation fails to convey its meaning.

    Well, this is a very good point...and this is why I'm not a translator!

  18. I think the problem here is less about getting the right translation and more about the fact that this sentiment just doesn't sound cool in Japanese.