Tattoos Leaving You Permanently Lost In Translation

January 12, 2012 by admin

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I have a tattoo, something which I don’t necessarily regret now, but should I have had my time again I think I would probably not choose to ‘scar’ myself for life with one Japanese symbol. I often forget it’s there until someone spies it and then asks what it means; I laugh in a slightly embarrassed fashion and say it’s the Japanese Kanji character for ‘woman’. Slightly cringe-worthy, but at least I do know what the symbol means, and I knew at the time what I was going to be permanently inked with. By no means did I want to run the risk of being stuck with a symbol that had a funny meaning.

It seems many people don’t do their research properly before leaping into the tattoo artist’s chair and go for Chinese, Hebrew, Sanskrit etc. and place their faith in the interpretation that the shop has provided.   If you don’t know the language thoroughly yourself you do hope that the person wielding the tattoo gun has a working knowledge and can give you an accurate translation. In a lot of cases it’s like the blind leading the blind and the result is a tattoo which doesn’t mean what it is supposed to.

It could even happen in languages closer to home, French for example, in the case of the pop singer Rihanna. She wanted ‘rebel flower’ to be inked on her neck in French. ‘Rebelle fleure’ is what she got, but it should have been ‘fleure rebelle’ to follow the rules of adjective placement in French. There are also many other examples of tattoos gone wrong, how about Britney Spears who has a Chinese character on her abdomen, instead of ‘mysterious’ it apparently says ‘weird’ instead!

At best your tattoo may be a load of gibberish, at worst it could mean something completely different. For example, ‘rice’ instead of ‘chi’, ‘palace’ instead of ‘princess’ or ‘green’ instead of ‘destiny’ (all examples found on a tattoos gone wrong website). There is a great collection of images of tattoos with spelling mistakes, Chinese characters written upside down, Hebrew written in reverse and nonsensical combinations of words/symbols/characters.

As a translation company we do get a request now and again to translate a certain phrase or word into a different language for use as a tattoo. Our linguists do their research and often provide different options as to how the phrase in question could be expressed. The person getting the tattoo can then rest assured that their tattoo will be correct. I would definitely recommend anyone to do their homework if considering a tattoo in a different language so that you don’t end up in the same boat as the guy who has ‘Idiot’ forever inked on his arm!

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