Learn Chinese from Bad Chinese Tattoos

Are you thinking of getting a Chinese tattoo? If so, read on to find out what happened to these Chinese tattoos which have rendered them confusing to Chinese people! We'll help you avoid the common pitfalls so that you don't get a Chinese tattoo that would regret.

1. Chinese words are not used similarly to English words

Source: https://world.greekreporter.com/2014/06/20/the-moment-you-realize-your-tattoo-doesnt-mean-what-you-thought/

This tattoo is read as 寒冷杀人魔 (hán lěng shā rén mó) which translates as "cold human slaying demon". On the face of it, this makes sense in English. A human slaying demon is cold-blooded right? However, the word 寒冷 (hán lěng) is actually only used in the very literal term, meaning "cold", as in you are shivering cold from the weather. If you would like to say "cold" as in "cold-blooded" in Chinese, it would actually be 冷血 (lěng xuè). Perhaps this tattoo was meant to read 冷血杀人魔 (lěng xuè shā rén mó) instead.

2. Make sure your sentences are complete

Source: http://en.people.cn/90001/90782/7075612.html

This tattoo reads 我不吃肉,但是我咬。 (Wǒ bù chī ròu, dànshì wǒ yǎo) 我不吃肉 makes sense. It means 'I don't eat meat.' So we know that this person might be a vegetarian (素食者 (Sùshí zhě)). However, the second part feels incomplete. "但是我咬 dànshì wǒ yǎo" means "but I bite......". But what does this person bite? Make sure that you complete your sentences with an object.

3. Hidden meanings of Chinese characters

Source: https://www.reshareworthy.com/asian-character-tattoos-gone-wrong/

(cài) means vegetable. But in slang originating from Taiwan, it can also mean 菜鸟 (cài niǎo) which means rookie. So if you are playing an online game and someone says 你很菜 (nǐ hěn cài). It means you are such a rookie. In addition, you may also hear people say 你是我的菜。 (Nǐ shì wǒ de cài.) 菜 means "type" in this case. So 你是我的菜。 (Nǐ shì wǒ de cài.) means ‘You are my type’. What do you think this tattoo means? Vegetable, Rookie or Type?

4. Make sure your Chinese characters are complete

Source: https://www.hoopsvibe.com/features/82256-the-nbas-50-worst-tattoos

Reading from vertical (up to down), the first character is 康 (kāng) which means "health". 女 means woman (nǚ) and then 宀 (mián) is actually a Chinese radical, an incomplete component of a character and its meaning is ‘roof’. But it’s incomplete. For example, we see this component in the word 家 (Jiā) which means home. So if we were to look at an English equivalent of this tattoo, it might be like “health, women, ho....”. Maybe he or she wanted it to say home but there are so many other words in Chinese with this 宀 (mián) component so we cannot be entirely sure! What do you think this person wanted to say?

5. Get tattoos with meanings

Source: https://chandlersfordtoday.co.uk/david-beckhams-chinese-tattoo/

A great example of a tattoo is one with meaning. David Beckham's tattoo is a good example of this. It is a Chinese proverb which says 生死有命 富貴在天 (Shēngsǐ yǒu mìng fùguì zài tiān) It means life, death and wealth are predestined.

Watch our video lesson here to hear the lesson and see a more in-depth explanation:

Stay tuned for more Chinese lessons!

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