Language Abuse

I'm sure many have discovered the website called by now, which focuses on photo examples of mistakes made in non-English speaking countries when using the language on signage and other materials such as t-shirts. It's easy to create what turns out to be humorous sounding gaffes when subtext such as slang or cultural double entendres comes into play. An example would be the t-shirt with "I want to ride on that" printed on the back.

But - seeing all of the kanji and hanzi on various products here in the West - I have often wondered if someone was putting together something that featured similar unfortunate errors on our own shores. After all, most of us can't read a lick of it...and I doubt the printers or creators of these products can either. I suspect they are, much of the time, just choosing the characters that they find the most aesthetically pleasing and putting those together. Which would result, of course, in your basic gibberish.

Tattoo fans are especially prone to getting burned by dabbling in a language that they are unable to read or in which they have no cultural understanding. Imagine my surprise when I found out that many tattoo artists are using a bogus "translation tool" for writing things (most often names) for their customers. This chart basically just assigns a random character for each letter and number of the English alphabet.

Oh - I understand the impetus...I imagine that there can be very few people who would not admit that it is a beautiful, elegant style of written communication. It is difficult to resist something so lovely. But add the 'cool' factor that has been ramping up in the last dozen years or so and the number of bad tattoo victims will assuredly increase (speaking of which - there are similar sites on the web that feature these kinds of inked regrets which are amazing in their scope).

When it comes to languages that use characters such as hanzi or kanji, I have often suggested to people hoping to get their names translated that perhaps they should find out what their name means and get that translated instead of the actual sounds. After all, Western names have ancient meanings just as Eastern names do. My own given name in two parts (first and middle names) means: 'Priceless Freedom'. I have family members with names that mean - 'Mountain Ruler', 'Defender Reborn' and 'Ireland's Freedom'.

Knowing that there had to be a twin site featuring the opposite side of the language faux pas game, I went looking - and finally found this:

Hanzi Smatter

It is every dire warning against playing with linguistic fire that I thought it would be. So for all of those who might be tempted to visit their local tattoo shop for an impulse bit of ink, make sure you know what you are getting. If you don't understand the language very well - perhaps refraining would be the wiser course. If you insist on it - maybe you should find a friend who is fluent to help you choose something. And make sure that they actually like you.

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