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Tattoo Translations

OK, so we’ve all heard of (and maybe seen) tattoos in other languages that make no sense or are offensive. What you might not have heard of are websites devoted to “tattoo translations,” or places to get one-off translations of names or other phrases. Here’s one that does free translations into Devanagari, Sanskrit, Hindi, & Marathi (though it’s not really clear to me what they do, since the site says “Devanagari Translation To Sanskrit, Hindi & Marathi”).

Anyway, the site lists what people asked to be translated: Lotus, Indra; Jodi; Svamarga, own path; bajrang bali; Gaia Linda my light, my life; Essence of Life; Courage; Seek the Truth; Nida, Zaki, Andy. That was just for today.

A little cruise around the Web shows other tattoo translations into Hebrew, Gaelic, Farsi, Hawaiian, Japanese, and Chinese (the last two are kanji, basically). Sounds like a lot of the botched translations came from the power of the internets, too, where people got punked with translations they thought were real. This rant from a tattoo artist was interesting:

I hate the requests. Hell, if it’s got meaning to you, go for it. But I do NOT understand the concept of getting a symbol permanently placed on your body if you can’t 1. Read it, 2. Pronounce it, 3. Recognize it if it wasn’t on your body.

I venture to guess a couple of things: That the wearers are more into different scripts than different languages, if they’re not native or frequent users of those scripts/languages (ie., you’d find more English-speaking Brits with tattoos in Chinese than ones in French); that there’s a greater proportion of exotic script tattoos now than in the past; and that tattoos in foreign languages, whether the translations are correct or not, are a condition of globalization.

Those lists of bad English hotel signs or t-shirts from abroad were always funny, but come on, they’re easy targets. So I was glad to see the word spread about bad Chinese/kanji tattoos–it showed how much we’re all goofing it up, making it up as we go, from a simple tattoo all the way up to foreign policy.