What Does Your Asian-Language Tattoo Say?

I suspect I’m probably going to regret this, but I’ve got to ask. What is the (supposed) English translation of your Asian-language tattoo?

Why did you choose to encrypt your message in a foreign language, rather than use plain old English? And why did you choose Chinese or Japanese rather than, say, Danish?

How did you verify that the character you chose correctly represents the message you were trying to convey?


I don’t have a tattoo myself, but I’ve seen a guy with a tattoo of the Chinese character for “chicken”. Chicken is bad enough in English, but the word also happens to mean “prostitute” in Cantonese.

Clearly, this guy didn’t do a very good job in his research. :smack:

I’d also like to request that you show us a picture, too, so the more knowledgeable Dopers can tell you if you were scammed.

Obligatory link to Hanzi Smatter.


Not just in Cantonese but Mandarin, too! China Guy and I shared some posts about this elsewhere on the board.

I was once going to get an old (ABC) girlfriend’s Chinese name tattooed. We all know how stupid that is, but I figured since it was in Chinese I could just tell people it meant “money” or something. At that point I thought I’d never have the chance to come to China (where I now live and have a family). Thank God for the tattoo artist who said to me, “Dude, you’re 18. She’s your first girlfriend. She’s going to move away to college next month. I don’t want to bum you out, but you two will probably break up and you’re going to regret that tattoo for the rest of your life.”

Tattoo guy, wherever you are, I owe you a beer.

I think the reason why people opt for Chinese or Japanese tattoos as opposed to Danish is probably because of the logographic factor. In addition to having a particular meaning, they also have a particular look to them. So even if nobody knows what it means they can still say, “whoa, that looks cool.” Other alphabets might not have that factor. Though it would be cool to see somebody with a tattoo in Hieroglyphics.

I will soon be getting one in Japanese, although for unusual reasons.

I am starting a full sleeve (sort of) soon and one of the frames will be the Deming/Shewhart PDSA cycle. anyone who has studied Deming will understand the Japanese connection.

I have “Phi Phi” in Thai on my arm, as part of a larger design.

It’s not Chinese or Japanese, it’s Sanskrit, and is says anitya (Impermanence.)*

I used a Sanskrit dictionary to ensure that it was accurate. People I’ve encountered who can read Hindi have been able to parse it without a problem.

I’m a Buddhist, that’s why. It’s a significant concept to me and I wanted it in the original language of the sacred texts.

Who gives a shit if I can read it? If someone in some other country is so taken in by some aspect of Western culture that they choose to have an English phrase tatooed on their body, more power to 'em. That’s the beauty of diversity. Things from other cultures can be relevant to people from other cultures. The barriers we build up are artificial.

Actually it’s a slight variation of that, the word impermanent*, because I am.


It says “broken.” No, it’s not over my heart.

I know it’s nitpicky, but if you wanted to use the original language of the texts, why did you use Sanskrit and, presumably, Devanagari? The canon is in not in Sanskrit, and it certainly did not use the Nagari script.

Not my tattoo, but I know someone with a tattoo of “Dance Dance Dance” in katakana (“dansu dansu dansu”). He knows it’s correct because 1) it’s the name of aHaruki Murakami book and he used the same characters and 2) he knows enough Japanese to understand it! He chose it because something in that book resonated with him and marked a turning point in his efforts to deal with his depression and social anxiety.

I like it, but it does strike me as a bit funny that you’ve had the word “impermanent” permanently inked on your body. :slight_smile:

Sanskrit looks pretty.

Yeah, I’m kind of a smartass like that. :slight_smile:

I don’t mean to pick on you, but this illustrates perfectly why it is questionable to get permanently marked in a language you don’t actually know. My issue is not so much about diversity but about advertising to the world that you just don’t know what you’ve written on yourself.

Your Hindi-speaking friends can make sense of the tattoo because the script, devanagari, is modern. You can write English in devanagari if you wanted to. People have not even been using it for Sanskrit for all that long.

The Tipitaka is also not even composed in Sanskrit but in Pali. It has been written in many scripts over the past two thousand years or so, including Roman.

So if you are trying to tell other Buddhists that you are referencing medieval commentaries on the aggregates, power to you. I bet Asvaghosa has plenty of poems about anitya. If you just like devanagari for whatever reason, that’s cool, too. It would be kind of perverse to write Pali in devanagari, so consequently Sanskrit is a fine choice.

But what you are not actually doing is inking yourself with the original sacred text. Diversity is great, but accuracy counts for something as well. Especially on a tattoo, which is both shared with others and is about as permanent as conditioned things get.

Probably “Beef with Broccoli”.

I don’t really get this. How is, “It looks pretty,” not a perfectly valid reason to get a tattoo, whether it be an abstract design, or something with overt meaning?

For my part, I’ve got “Aonaibh ri cheile” tattooed on my arm. It’s Gaelic, so probably doesn’t count under the OP, as it at least uses Roman letters. I’m not 100% how you pronounce it - someone on the 'Dope told me at one point, but for all I know, they could have been full of it. I understand it translates into “unity,” but I could be wrong. Either way, I don’t really care, as the intention was never to use my shoulder to communicate with any Gaelic speakers I may come across.

I observe that tattoos appear more frequently on the undereducated, for whom the notion of a foreign language or unusual symbols is more exotic–sophistication and an air of mystery by association.

I also observe that the nature and quality of the tattoo frequently matches the canvas almost perfectly.

We are all driven by the need to be special and unique. Tattoos are an inexpensive and easy way for the polloi to get there.

It is a perfectly good reason. None better, really. But it is a rather different reason than olives’ original proposition of referencing the “original sacred text”.

I suppose it just comes down on what you are comfortable with.

Thats the same word they have on the side of Indian white board markers, along with xylol free.

Mine says Happy Artichoke World - bastards.