NYT article on gibberish Chinese tattoos

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Mon Apr 3 03:57:21 UTC 2006

>Today's NY Times has a long article ("SundayStyles", section 9, p. 12) on
>tattoos of Chinese characters that don't mean what the bearers think they
>mean. The article is online for a couple of days:
>It also refers appropriately to the Hanzi Smatter site, which has been
>blogging these blunders:
>        Errors are common enough to be good business for tattoo removal
>        specialists, and to fuel a blog, www.hanzismatter.com, which posts
>        photographs of botched tattoos accompanied by sardonic commentary
>        from Tian Tang, a Chinese-born engineering student.

Judging from the photo of the tattoo in the NYT it wasn't only the tattoo
purchaser who was a little careless. The NYT reporter (and editor if any)
should have been a little more precise IMHO: the tattoo would be better
described as "three Japanese characters" than as "two Chinese characters",
surely ("two Chinese characters and a kana" or something like that might be

According to my limited understanding, the tattoo reads "koi itai" which
can reasonably be taken as "love is painful" (somebody expecting a
perfectly grammatical sentence might object that a particle is missing).
The alternative translation "loves the pain" suggested in the article seems
wrong to me. I defer to any expert.

-- Doug Wilson

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