Thursday, June 15, 2006

Asian Character Misuse

I found an interesting website/blog: Hanzi Smatter, dedicated to the misuse of Chinese characters in Western culture. I spent some time learning Japanese, and many of the charcters are shared. I only recognize a handful, but you don't need to know anything to understand this site.

The author critiques various misuses that include incorrect drawings (strokes left out), characters misaligned (rotated sideways, upside down), unknown characters (apparently invented)... but the worst ones are bad translations, and many of those involve tattoos (!!).

Examples include:

But the truly outrageous, horrifying, and sad ones are all the people who get messed up Asian character tattoos. Examples are all over the site - just browse the archives from the beginning.

An earlier post summarizes some key issues:

The problem is NOT that people are getting characters tattooed on them; it's that people who don't understand the characters are getting characters tattooed on them by other people who don't understand the characters. It is equivalent of “blind leading blind”. To those of us who do, it's a cause for mirth and head-shaking.


A kanji is the cheapest thing that you can get at the tattoo parlor. For the most part they require no thought and are chosen on impulse right before getting tattooed. Most of the people who get these tattoos don’t care what it is; they just want to be "cool".

An example of an innocuous tale is this one of a woman who bought her sister a tattoo even though neither knew what it meant. People do this?!

I can't stop browsing this site; it is fascinating. I guess the lesson here is if you are getting a foreign language tattoo, have a friend who is trusted and fluent in the language to vet it for you beforehand!

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