News broke this week that musician Ariana Grande got a sweet new tattoo. The only trouble is that the tattoo is in Japanese, and Ariana doesn’t know Japanese. Perhaps neither does her tattoo artist. After she posted the image of her tattoo on social media, the Internet swiftly gave its assessment, calling it a tattoo fail.
Grande got inked to promote her new single “7 Rings.” The music video accompanying the song uses the correct translation of the name of the song, “七つの指輪.” But her tattoo uses only the first and last characters, “七輪” (“shichirin”), which means “small barbecue grill.”
Ariana Grande celebrates her new “7 Rings” hit with a tattoo reading 七輪 on her palm. One problem: that’s “shichirin,”meaning a charcoal brazier. (She gets it right with the text in her video.) https://t.co/lYvwrfZ5qq pic.twitter.com/2jhyJDzKqX
— Nippon.com (@nippon_en) January 30, 2019
When she was confronted with the fans’ interpretation of her body art, she deleted her original tweets and joked that she’s a “huge fan of tiny bbq grills,” which is great because Amazon is running some great deals on them now.
Why Do We Keep Getting Asian Tattoos?
So why do Americans and others who don’t understand Asian languages keep getting Asian tattoos? Some commentators claim that when non-Asians get Asian body art, they are committing disrespectful cultural appropriation.
But I don’t think the typical non-Asian who gets an Asian tattoo means disrespect. I think it typically shows admiration for the beauty of the language, as well as a desire to have on their skin some mysterious and profound art.
It’s undeniable; Japanese and Chinese calligraphy is beautiful. It’s not unusual to find students of Asian languages who began their studies simply because of the beauty of the characters. (I’m guilty as charged.)
Further, the mystery of having markings on your skin that only you know the meaning of is alluring. It is a symbol that seems to have a great profundity.
The only trouble is that if you get an Asian tattoo, you are not actually the only one who knows the meaning. What’s more, you probably think of Japanese and Chinese characters as symbols with deep meanings, but they’re not symbols.
So if you wouldn’t get the English words inked on your skin, don’t ink the Chinese translation. If the English words would look silly, so will the Chinese words.
Let the following images be a cautionary tale lest you consider getting drunk, checking Google Translate, and getting “super cool ninja” inked in Japanese on your back.
Sure the Tattoo Artist Might Know Some Chinese, But . . .
if he hates you, he will give you a tattoo like this:
Join 6 people right now at “Stupid Chinese Character Tattoos That Make No Sense” #cheers #beer #pizza #games #comedy #entertainment #humor #sadanduseless #character #tattoos #chinese #stupid #tattoo #sense #fails #asian https://t.co/kqOVdXbioB pic.twitter.com/mpz1TrRvsa
— Cheers for Parties (@party_on_cheers) April 16, 2018
He or She Might Just Not Actually Know Anything . . .
and give you something like this:
It’s no lie people like getting tattoos of Chinese characters but this one is outrageously bad ???? To start with, these are incomplete characters done sloppily ???? #tattoo #chinese #fails pic.twitter.com/VPLXRHeBRj
— גבריאל (@Trianovitz) October 3, 2018
Or Maybe You’ll Discover That It’s Sideways . . .
for no good reason.
Chinese tattoo fail…sigh… pic.twitter.com/rGcrWVq8
— Tim Choi (@TimChoi89) June 14, 2012
Or It’s Extremely Ugly . . .
and the wrong characters.
— TutorMing (@TutorMing) October 16, 2015
If You Can’t Think of Anything Profound . . .
just tattoo some silly words in Chinese. It’ll still look cool, except to Chinese people.
— TutorMing (@TutorMing) December 19, 2014
You Have Few Good Options for Fixing Bad Tattoos
Ariana Grande, after she realized her error, contacted her Japanese tutor to ask for advice. Based on that advice, Grande added the character “指” howbeit in the wrong place. So now, the Internet chatter says that the tattoo reads “BBQ grill finger,” still not quite the perfect tattoo Grande was looking for.
Oh no, this keeps getting worse…yesterday, we found out that Ariana Grande got a tattoo that says “barbecue grill” in Japanese.
The episode leaves you to wonder how it was that a woman whose career depends upon her public image would get a permanent mark on her skin in Japanese without first checking with multiple linguists.
Too many people are careless about the Asian tattoos they get. One restaurant waitress actually had me write down a couple characters on a napkin so that she could get them tattooed on herself the next day.
Too many companies are also equally careless with their translations. Although printed materials or websites are not permanent in the same way as a tattoo, the bad impression left by careless translations can be permanent, lasting for a lifetime.
Do you just have to get a Japanese or Chinese tattoo? To avoid having a Chinese tattoo fail at least email us first with your ideas. You want to ensure that you aren’t getting something absurd inked on your body for life.
If nothing else, you can try the following solution:
— On Second Thought (@OSTtalk) November 6, 2015
Darren Jansen, Business development and content manager for IVANNOVATION has a lifetime love for tech and languages. At IVANNOVATION he helps software developers get professional localization for their apps, software, and websites. On his time away from the office, he can be found hiking the Carolina wilderness or reading Chinese literature.