Friday, December 30, 2011

from: dulce
to: ""
date: Thu, Dec 29, 2011 at 12:19 PM
subject: a question/ tatoo

dear sir

today I met this man, who came to fix my car.
when I saw his arm, tattoed , I did ask him the meaning of the word and he said: this is the name of his son, called: João Victor (something like John Victor in English)

Is he right? I don´t think so....

best regards


It is completely gibberish, not even correct with the gibberish font.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Slightly off topic here.

Image above was posted in
. The tattoo is Korean Hangul (Korean alphabet), but upside-side down, of course.

Who or what is "Park Noh Sik"?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

In recent issue of GQ magazine (US edition), I came across this ad for The Art of Shaving:

The Chinese translation of "The Ambassador of Smooth" as 平稳大使 is contextually incorrect.

refers to stability, not related to physical surface condition, which shaving is about. Nor the American English slang usage of "smooth" in terms of finesse.

平稳大使 would be better suited as ad slogan for a physical therapy clinic, than hawking male grooming products.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

from: Elsa M.
date: Sun, Nov 6, 2011 at 10:41 PM
subject: Hanzismatter-worthy shirt

I actually laughed out loud when I saw the Chinese on this shirt. Thought I would share. Some smart alec designer had finally had enough.

Presumably the intended sentence is:


which means "this is traditional Chinese way of writing",

with missing "" & "".

Sunday, October 23, 2011

From BME's gallery, has one extra horizontal stroke under the radical, .

Also, 雪片花 (snow piece flower) is redundant, 雪花 (snow flake) would suffice. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Dr. Victor Mair at Language Log has a nice piece on how Google Translate became the de facto tool for anyone wants to communicate in a foreign language.  Even though in some cases, translation it provided are incorrect. 

This young man holding the sign at "Occupy Wall Street", probably wanted "No More Corruption".  However, Google Translate gave him "There isn't any more corruption."

By the way, why is he holding a sign written in Chinese?! 
Has this naive young man ever done business in China?
How about 關係, 後門, and 紅包?

Friday, October 7, 2011

from: Fedor M. 
date: Thu, Oct 6, 2011 at 8:23 AM 
subject: hanzi smatter in DFW 

This is a sign for a Chinese restaurant in Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. The characters are upside down and seem to say "blue bamboo". 

蓝竹 does mean "blue bamboo" and it is displayed upside down.  

According to Yelp, its food is terrible and only has one star.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

from: Laura R.
date: Wed, Oct 5, 2011 at 1:14 AM
subject: "Chinese" trash can

Hello and thank you for your awesome blog!

We recently visited the "Phantasialand" amusement park close to Cologne in Germany.

This is what the trash cans in the "Chinatown" section look like. It says "garbage" in German, and while I instantly recognized the second character as being upside down (have been studying Japanese for a while now), I'm not sure whether the first one is a correct character at all or if there is any meaning to this combination.

There were loads of upside down or gibberish characters in the "Chinese" ghost train ride, too ^^;

Thanks in advance!


Not only the second character is upside down, the first character is missing a stroke.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Steve Caires of sent me this today:

From Hector Garcia's A Geek in Japan:

"At first glance, it seems like a kid with a supercool sweater with a Japanese character. The problem is that the character means “hemorrhoid” in Japanese. Probably the designer confused the character , which means “samurai” and is pronounced “ji”, with the character that means “hemorrhoid” and is also pronounced “ji”… Both characters are graphically very similar but the meaning is totally different!"

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Dr. Victor Mair from University of Pennsylvania sent me a link to a recent posting in the Language Log:

The Chinese on banner for "Bodies... The Exhibition" does not say "discover your body", rather "discover your honorable corpse." [More]

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

My father has forwarded me this news story about hilarious mistranslated signs used by Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. It appears Royal Caribbean Cruise Line did not verify the Chinese translation's accuracy and blindly trusted Google Translate.

Luckily paper signs can be reprinted, unlike tattoos.

Corned Beef Hash => "salted beef jumbled signal"

Ham and Bamboo Shoot Salad => "clumsy actor and bamboo's salad"

Garden Greens => "[botanical] garden became green color"

Chicken and Mushroom tart => "timid and rapidly grown prostitute(s)"

Regular Milk => "policy milk"
Half & Half => "secondary butter blended mixture"

Green Split Pea Soup => "green separation pea soup"

English Bacon => "English [language] cultivate root"

* Update: several readers have informed me that 培根 is an acceptable transliteration for "bacon" in Taiwan. However, the sign is still incorrect for using "English [language]", instead of "English [cuisine style]".

Creamy Italian Dressing = "butter Italy costume"

Original Story:
中式英文令人啼笑皆非 美国人英译中菜单更搞笑(图)

Language Log:
Timid and Rapidly Grown Prostitutes

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

from: Gunnar
date: Tue, Jun 28, 2011 at 11:16 AM
subject: Funny tattoo "Ride Hard Die Free"


I stumbled across this tattoo online, and I haven't seen on your blog before. It is supposed to say "Ride Hard Die Free" but as you can see Google Translate made a creative interpretation of the phrase. I hope you enjoy it!

Thank you for a great blog!


Grammatically speaking, this tattooed phrase is Chinese, however its translation back to English is far from "Ride Hard Die Free".

Granted, 免費 does mean "free of charge", 乘坐 does mean "riding, or being passenger", does mean "hard", but or 硬模 is not verb for "die, or dying". Rather it is the noun "die" as in "die-casting" or "die-molding".

I guess this young man is quite proud and wants everyone to know he enjoys "freely shoving die-casted figurines up his ass"?


Saturday, May 28, 2011

from: Victor H. Mair
to: Tian
date: Wed, May 25, 2011 at 7:30 PM
subject: smatter

Hanzi Smatter circa 1700

A friend of Dr. Mair sent him a
photograph of Dutch chinoiserie tile panel from the late 17th-early 18th century, and asked him to help her identify some of the curious scenes represented on it. Dr. Mair, however, was immediately drawn to the cartouche in the upper left corner.

Here is what happened...
from: Fryeda K.
date: Fri, May 20, 2011 at 1:20 PM
subject: Tattoo

This idiot went to get "his name", but now gets "lots of laughs in Chinese restaurants".

So, the question is, what does it really say?


Although top character is , however it would not make any sense combining with .

Most likely it was a typo and intended tattoo is 精神, or spirit.
from: John C.
date: Tue, May 17, 2011 at 12:58 PM
subject Tattoo Translation

Hi there,

I got a tattoo a few years back saw the image in a shop alongside a few others, and decided to get it. It is supposed to be Outlaw, though someone I used to game online with from China told me it actually directly translates to Out of the Law. I can live with that if that is true. Though now that it is time to get my tattoos touched up due to fading, I want to double check before I get a new coat of ink put on it. Here is the attached image from when it was still freshly done.



躲藏 means "[in] hiding" and is "criminal".

However the translation of 躲藏犯 is equivalent of "snitch" or "rat". It is associated with someone has betrayed his duty and honor to exchange for freedom but in a life of hiding. Definitely not glamorous in either law enforcement or crime syndicates' eyes.

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.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

from: Tanya A.
date: Thu, Apr 21, 2011 at 4:07 PM
subject: another stupid tattoo question

Dear Tian,

I just ran across your blog and love it!

Question: about ten years ago I took the character for "Courage" that I found in a Chinese Dictionary into a tattoo parlor. I really wanted the character for "courage" on my back, but the dictionary said that the character also stood for "gall bladder."

I wasn't sure that I actually wanted the character for "gall bladder" on my back, so when I saw a character that also supposedly meant "courage" on a sign full of symbols and pictures hanging on the tattoo parlor wall I said to myself, "tattoo parlors don't lie!" and asked for that one instead.

I was recently told by a Chinese friend that my tattoo actually says "Dog Passing."

(I've known for years that the second character says "passing," but only recently found out about the "dog" part. I was told that this particular symbol for dog is archaic, which is why many of the non-Asian students of Chinese and Japanese that I asked before didn't know it....)

I'm hoping you might verify.

Thank you!

It is not "dog passing" or 犬過.

大過 [たいか] serious error; gross mistake

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

from: Roxanne P.
date: Tue, Apr 19, 2011 at 9:11 PM
subject: please help me asap

so my boyfriend got this tattoo the other day and was told it ment loyalty in japanese kanji and just so happens my friend has loyalty also in jap kanji and they dont look anything alike please helppppp me asap

I sure hope Roxanne's boyfriend really enjoys eating noodles.

[めん] noodles

Monday, April 18, 2011

from: Kate D.
date: Sat, Apr 16, 2011 at 8:19 AM
subject Some Terrible Tattoos

I thought I'd send you some pictures I found from of truly terrible Chinese tattoos. There's so many awful mistakes, I don't even know where to begin!


First character of 性感 (sexy) has been split into two!

Why would anyone tattoo "golden pig" on his back, and why is the character for pig, , upside down?!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

from: JAMES H.
date: Thu, Mar 10, 2011 at 8:15 AM
subject: Young & Dumb

A friend got me this tattoo years ago and I was told it meant "fear no man". Being young and dumb as most 18 year olds are, I didn't bother to make sure. Now after looking into it a little more, I'm not sure what it is. Please help!!

棺材佬 means "coffin man".

However, the middle character of 木見才 or 木貝才 does not exist in Chinese character list.

Tattoos with exact same error can be seen here & here.

Monday, February 14, 2011

from: Nick
date: Mon, Feb 14, 2011 at 10:56 AM
subject: unknown calf

Hi there,

My brother got this tattoo on his calf many years ago, has no idea what it means.

Can you help????

Thanks, Love the blog.


First of all, the character is not correct. It is either missing a stroke in the left radical or having one extra. The intended character could be:

means "frame; spindle, spool, reel".


means "pure".
This was posted in

Too bad is mirrored.

Friday, February 11, 2011

from: Pat B.
date: Thu, Feb 10, 2011 at 6:34 PM
subject: Brad the Art Guy : Business is steady.

I'm in Hong Kong now and in my class we're looking at Chinese folk religion at the moment, so I went looking for a picture of Laozi and found this ... thought you might enjoy it.

Blog: Brad the Art Guy
Post: Business is steady.

"There was a man in North Carolina who got me to draw a portrait of Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, which he had transferred to his arm by a talented tattoo artist."

Brad the Art Guy's rendition of 道德經 looks nothing like the real thing.

from: P. McKown
date: Wed, Feb 9, 2011 at 7:32 PM
subject: Academic citation

Hi Tian, I'm an undergraduate at an American university and was so inspired by your website that I decided to write a research paper about Chinese textual tattoos. As I was combing through an article looking for additional sources for my paper I noticed that your website was mentioned. It's an article called "The Blood-Stained Text in Translation: Tattooing, Bodily Writing, and Performance of Chinese Virtue" by Daphne Lei, which I've included as an attachment. Your website is mentioned in the second entry in the end notes.

Keep up the great work!


Daphne P. Lei, University of California, Irvine - The Blood-Stained Text in Translation: Tattooing, Bodily Writing, and Performance of Chinese Virtue (PDF) Anthropological Quarterly, Vol. 82, No. 1, pp. 99–128, ISSN 0003-549. © 2009 by the Institute for Ethnographic Research (IFER) a part of the George Washington University. All rights reserved.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

from: Tom De R.
date: Fri, Feb 4, 2011 at 10:47 AM

Can you please tell me what this means.
My brother got this last week and is an idiot.

自律 means "autonomy" and means "joy".

However due to the location of the tattoo, one can make a cheeky remark of this young man is "taking care of business himself".

Friday, January 14, 2011

from: Morgan D.
date: Thu, Jan 13, 2011 at 2:51 PM
subject: Help with tatoo translation


I was reading your blog- I love it! My father got this tattoo and he wont tell anyone what it means. Its been rumored to mean "man with many blessings" or "man with a big stick." Can you tell me what it really means?

Thank you so much!!!


The characters &mean "eternal" and "rock/stone". Of course, the tattooed phrase is non-sense. However, it is very likely the person got this wanted to "rock forever" if he was into the music scene, or "[to be] stone forever" as a junkie. As many modern day rockstars are both.

永石 could also be Japanese names for えいせき (Eiseki), ながいし (Nagaishi), or よんそく (Yonsoku).

Friday, January 7, 2011

from: Emma L.
date: Fri, Jan 7, 2011 at 12:23 PM
subject: Chinese Tattoo?

My friend's boyfriend had this tattoo done with another friend whilst on holiday in Turkey. It was supposed to be his grandmother's name, but not only did the tattooist get his and his friend's tattoos mixed up, the lettering seems to be reflected as well. Would you be able to tell me what this actually means? Thanks, Emma x

1. Tattoo is based on gibberish font
2. All characters are mirrored

Thursday, January 6, 2011

from: Raisa K.
date: Tue, Jan 4, 2011 at 8:11 AM
subject: Hi!

This tattoo was taken when i broke up with my First Love, i was 22 then. We went to tattoo exhibit with my friends and my artist was the only one with oriental signs and their explanations. Altough i'm not sure they ment what they were intended... So, my signs explanation was "strength". My brother calls this tattoo as "noodle", so i think what ever this means or even if it doesn't mean anything, it will stay as "noodle" or in my head as "strenght", but surely i'd like to know what it means to others... :-D

It appears to be an unfinished .