Tattoo Translations – If You Dare! - Part 1

By Stacey
Jul 28, 2016 · 3 min

Body art, or tattooing, is not new – it’s a very old form of expression.

Body art, or tattooing, is not new – it’s a very old form of expression. In fact, some Asian cultures have used tattoos for centuries. For example, in Japan, it’s traditional for the indigenous Ainu people to have tattoos on their face; while getting a tattoo in many other tribal communities is simply a rite of passage for male children. There are also indigenous groups of people in the Western world who are known for their tattoos: the original inhabitants in the north of Britain were the Picts, and this word literally means ‘painted’ people; while the word Britons means ‘people of the designs’.

In today’s modern world, tattoos have become a worldwide phenomenon. In the year 2012 in the United States it was estimated that 19% of men and 23% of women had some form of tattoo on their body: interestingly, this is the first time women have outnumbered men when it comes to tattoos. Even though tattoos originated as religious and traditional art forms, it’s thought that these figures are quite indicative of global numbers; and today we see tattoos very entrenched in modern culture.

For the purpose of this post we’re not actually looking at tattoos, we’re looking at tattoo translations – and this is an entirely different story!

Terrible Tattoo Translations

With the merging of Eastern and Western cultures in the 20th century, we saw the evolution of a rather strange practice: people in both these cultures were getting body tattoos in languages that were foreign to them. Specifically, in the West, Chinese symbol tattoos were beginning to become very popular as a form of body art. A new phenomenon was born: people who had no knowledge or understanding of Asian languages were excited about getting tattoos in Arabic and Chinese scripts. However, sometimes the translation to and from English was terrible and this resulted in tattoos that may have looked great, but they were hilarious because they had ridiculous meanings.

Let’s have a look at a couple of examples –

  • Meanie Crime Poet: Just guessing, this may have been intended to mean ‘Bad Gangsta Rapper’!
  • Mad Diarrhea: Who knows what they meant! Perhaps ‘Crazy sh*t happens all the time’?
  • Bad Boi!: Again, no clue at all, but it sounds painful!
  • Rice Fried by Pork Fat: Sounds fattening! Maybe this one was carried out by a chef-cum-tattooist!)
  • Leopard Lady Dream Dragon Labour: Your guess is as good as ours for this one!
  • Cheap Sh*t: Okay, we actually get this one!
  • Evil Bird Camphor: Really scary bird droppings?
  • Swift-Dumb: Maybe they meant ‘Dumb Athletes?’.

These tattoos were undoubtedly meant to convey an important message, but unfortunately, this is what they translated to. Anyone with any knowledge of the language would know that the reason these translators are so ridiculous is that Chinese script is more pictorial-based, rather than letter-based; which would make translating a rather difficult task. Then, of course, to add insult to injury, the person doing the translating was probably ill-equipped to do so, and there we have a recipe for disaster.

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