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“Cool Tat, Too Bad It’s Gibberish”

Chang, Cindy | The New York Times, April 2, 2006


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A man who loves his son very much went to an LA tattoo parlor, chose a motto (“one love,” according to the book in the parlor) as a grand gesture of enthusiasm for his boy, and had the two Chinese characters tattooed prominently on his forearm. But a checkout clerk informed him that what the characters actually said was “Love hurts.” It’s a motto for failed romance. Now he’s finding the real meaning prophetic as he undergoes the ouch-inspiring process of tattoo removal. Some people discover that, out of context, their characters mean nothing at all. Or something different from what they’ve been told. “Britney Spears . . . reportedly got a tattoo she thought said “mysterious” but actually meant “strange.” The problem is that the tattoo artists in the U.S. typically don’t know Chinese. They have to copy from templates they can’t independently verify as to accuracy, and they have to make sure they don’t tilt any of the strokes or squiggles. The results of miscues can be significant. A Chinese-born engineering student, Tian Tang, has a website ( where people send photos of tatoos–alas, often after they’ve gotten them. “Power piglets” says one tattoo. “Mother beast blessing” says another. “Healthy woman roof.” “Shawn Marion of the Phoenix Suns was under the impression that his nickname, ‘The Matrix,’ was tattooed on his leg, but Mr. Tang says the inscription translates as something like ‘Demon bird moth balls.’” Worth a moment’s consideration.