We’ve all seen it.
The person thinking he’s uber cool with his tattoo in Chinese characters.
To appreciate the hilarity of hanzai (one of my most favorite sites in the whole wide Web), it’s helpful to know the tiniest basic in Chinese/Japanese.
Think of the language as hieroglyphics. Pictographs. Each (Japanese) kanji character, called a radical, has a pictorial history (with origins in China). Unlike Western language, which is linear phonetics, Chinese and Japanese are visual, conceptual and poetic.
To briefly illustrate, let’s take the very common sound of “ko.”
The single “ko” is communicated by a vast number of radicals. Here are eight. Remember, each is “ko.” Each has a different meaning (indicated in caption).
So you can see that the selection of the proper kanji is essential in writing and selecting tats.
Go for the cool and/or don’t do your homework and/or pick a dolt tattooist and you may end up, deservedly, with “warehouse” or “curdle” instead of “child” inked on the bicep.
You end up with nonsense. Tats with no meaning. Tats with bizarre meaning.
You end up with, well, plentiful fodder for Hanzi Smatter: Dedicated to the misuse of Chinese characters in Western culture.
The guy behind hanzismatter fields submissions of photos and requests for deciphering and translation of tats. He responds with linguistic mastery, aplomb and wit.
Ever reminding that stupid is as stupid does:
1. 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!!
棺材ｨﾐ– means “coffin man.”
However, the middle character of 木見才 or 木貝才 does not exist in Chinese character list.
2. Can you please tell me what this means. My brother got this last week and is an idiot.
自律 means “autonomy” and 樂 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.”
3. I was reading your blog- I love it! My father got this tattoo and he won’t tell anyone what it means. It’s been rumored to mean “man with many blessings” or “man with a big stick.” Can you tell me what it really means?
The characters 永 & 石 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 rock stars are both.
4. I have a friend from work who has a tattoo on his arm. Since I knew about your blog I tried taking a pic of it & check with you if he really knows the meaning of what he has or not. He said it’s written in Chinese and it says something like “there’s nothing like mom.” Thanks a lot & love your blog.
The first character does not exist in written Chinese. However, there is one character 冇 only exists in written Cantonese, which means “not have.” Of course, that is not what has been tattooed here.
Tattoo does not mean “there is nothing like mom,” rather “not have the likeness of my mother.”
5. One of my coworkers has this tattoo on her wrist which she had done in Bali. She thinks it says the following:
1. live your dreams (Thailand)
2. just fucking dance (China)
3. let nature take its course (Burma)
4. actions/protest (Bali)
顺其自然, without that extra piece in the middle, would mean “to let nature take its course.”
Besides the terrible calligraphy, what a group of hodgepodge text.
6. Alan spotted this photo in BME’s Kanji tattoo gallery:
Despite the great calligraphy (calligraphy as in fancy artistic penmanship), there is a huge typo on this person’s torso.
Bushido, the way of the warrior in Japanese is written as 武士道, not with 侍 in the middle. 侍 itself means samurai or warrior, but 武侍道 makes no sense in Japanese. Especially considering Bushido is a Japanese concept.
“Bullshitdo,” the way of bullshit, would be more fitting.