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That Tattoo Doesn't Mean What You Think It Means

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Chinese and Japanese character tattoos have been sweeping the West for a decade or more now, to the extent that most of our readers probably know someone who has one. Perhaps it's just a single discreet Chinese hanzi tucked into the inside of a lady's wrist -- or it could be several huge Japanese kanji blazed across a man's back. They may tell you they know what their tattoo means. But do they really?

The blog Hanzismatter has been translating odd tattoos, tee-shirts and other misused Chinese, Japanese and Korean characters in the West since 2004, and over the years has exposed some truly ridiculous body inkings. (The site was overwhelmed with traffic the last time I checked it; I had to use the Wayback Machine to find these great examples.)

"Crazy diarrhea"

Chinese translation:
ç‹‚ = crazy
瀉 = to flow out, diarrhea

My hypothesis is that either the tattoo artist had a wicked sense of humor, or the customer picked out a few random characters from a book that he or she thought looked pretty. (This is why all your Chinese friends snicker at you, btw.) Also, this tattoo appears to be located just above the waistline on the lower back; its proximity to aforementioned crazy outflow can only add credence to the translation.

"I support a non-existent ethnic group"


The NBA's Marcus Camby sports these Chinese characters on his right shoulder and bicep. Big and bold, they're hard to miss and certainly make a statement on the court: a statement which says "I support a non-existent ethnic group." Hanzi explains: "Usually the character 族 is used in Chinese referring to a certain ethnic group. In this case, without any detailed explanation, Camby's tattoo means he is a member of the 勉 ethnic group, which is nonexistent."

"Whipped husband"


A husband and wife got these matching tattoos. The wife's tattoo means "wife" in Chinese, and the husband's means "husband" or "son-in-law." But in Japanese, the same character means "man who takes his wife's name," the English equivalent of saying someone is "whipped bigtime." Gotta watch those double-meanings!

"Abusive husband pimps me out"


Unless this is a cry for help, this woman got majorly punked by her local tattoo artist. Submitted by a reader of

"I crave male genitals"


An eBay seller claims that this shirt means Fu** in Cantonese, but that's not quite true.

Any readers have mistranslated tattoo stories they'd like to share?

Thanks to Chellis Ying for pointing out Hanzismatter to me.

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Vanilla and French Vanilla Ice Cream?
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While you’re browsing the ice cream aisle, you may find yourself wondering, “What’s so French about French vanilla?” The name may sound a little fancier than just plain ol’ “vanilla,” but it has nothing to do with the origin of the vanilla itself. (Vanilla is a tropical plant that grows near the equator.)

The difference comes down to eggs, as The Kitchn explains. You may have already noticed that French vanilla ice cream tends to have a slightly yellow coloring, while plain vanilla ice cream is more white. That’s because the base of French vanilla ice cream has egg yolks added to it.

The eggs give French vanilla ice cream both a smoother consistency and that subtle yellow color. The taste is a little richer and a little more complex than a regular vanilla, which is made with just milk and cream and is sometimes called “Philadelphia-style vanilla” ice cream.

In an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered in 2010—when Baskin-Robbins decided to eliminate French Vanilla from its ice cream lineup—ice cream industry consultant Bruce Tharp noted that French vanilla ice cream may date back to at least colonial times, when Thomas Jefferson and George Washington both used ice cream recipes that included egg yolks.

Jefferson likely acquired his taste for ice cream during the time he spent in France, and served it to his White House guests several times. His family’s ice cream recipe—which calls for six egg yolks per quart of cream—seems to have originated with his French butler.

But everyone already knew to trust the French with their dairy products, right?

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at

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Belly Flop Physics 101: The Science Behind the Sting
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Belly flops are the least-dignified—yet most painful—way of making a serious splash at the pool. Rarely do they result in serious physical injury, but if you’re wondering why an elegant swan dive feels better for your body than falling stomach-first into the water, you can learn the laws of physics that turn your soft torso a tender pink by watching the SciShow’s video below.


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