Chinese Tattoos: Funky Translations

Chinese lettering is so art-like, so lovely. I bought a scroll of a Chinese poem when we were living in Taiwan and it now hangs on our wall. The translation in English was written on a piece of paper and paper clipped to the scroll. I assume that the translation is accurate. As lovely as the writing looks, however, beware when heading to a tattoo parlor. Make sure that what gets inked in your skin says what you want it to say–or thereabouts. The problem is that Chinese doesn’t translate to English word for word all that well. For example, since we couldn’t read the local movie listings when we lived in Taiwan, the only way we could ever figure out what was playing was if we described what the movie was about to our Chinese friends and they could let us know what movie title came close to what we described.

As Chris Mitchell points out in “Tattoos Gone Bad: Engrish in Reverse,” Chinese characters, when used as a direct translation from English, can make missives worthy of a laugh. One of his favorites is “Inferior goods.” Since the tattoo is over someone’s backside, the joke is even more poignant. Mitchell cites the blog, Hanzi Smatter, dedicated to the misuse of Chinese characters, as one of his favorites for Chinese language butchering. The photo is from the last entry on this blog. According to Tian, the blogger, one of the characters doesn’t exist, and one is upside down.