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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"

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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"

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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"

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

"I crave male genitals"

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

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