Charlotte Hannah
August 06, 2013

10 Chinese Character Tattoos That Don’t Mean What You Think


Here’s a tip: If you’re planning on getting a tattoo, do your research first. I’m not just talking about taking a look at some of your tattoo artist’s previous work and making sure you’re going to a reputable shop, either.

I’m talking about the simple things, like making sure the totally sick kanji tat you intend to get permanently inked on your body doesn’t actually translate to “bad tattoo.”

If any of the folks whose tattoos have been translated by Tian at the blog Hanzi Smatter had taken a few moments to find out what the Chinese and Japanese characters — or in some cases, completely meaningless scribbles — they had tattooed on themselves meant before they got inked, they wouldn’t have ended up with such embarrassing gibberish on their skin.

But on the other hand, at least we can laugh at their stupidity.

Honor is expensive

What it’s supposed to mean:

“The middle symbol is supposed to be honour and the three symbols around it courage, loyalty, and respect,” writes Matthew.

What it really means:

“The center character, 貴, means ‘expensive, costly, valuable,’” Tian explains.

Hopefully this tattoo wasn’t.

I’ll never leave your side, noodles

What it’s supposed to mean:

Loyalty.

What it really means:

Noodles.

I’m curious, though: What do you do if you really do want to get a tattoo that says noodles? Everyone who can read it will think you’re a gullible idiot, when in reality you’re just a person who loves noodles.

Tattoo some gibberish, let the rube sort it out

What it’s supposed to mean:

Presumably this was supposed to mean “Kill them all and let God sort them out.” The writer, Amy, explained that the tattoos belong to a friend of hers, and he refuses to tell anyone what they mean.

What it really means:

“Destroy / Them / Total” “Let / Deity / Organize / Them”

So … close? This is why you don’t have Google Translate help you pick a tattoo.

The fast and the idiot

What it’s supposed to mean:

“My brother recently got a tattoo that he believe translates to ‘fast and furious,’” writes Amanda.

What it really means:

Fast and foolish.

Close enough – also, way more accurate.

I’ve made a huge mistake

What it’s supposed to mean:

The person who got this tattoo doesn’t even remember what it was supposed to be.

What it really means:

“Serious error; gross mistake.”

You’ve got that right.

At least it’s aesthetically pleasing

What it’s supposed to mean:

The owner of this unfortunate tat doesn’t know what it means. He had it done many years ago “for aesthetics,” and is just now becoming concerned that he may have branded himself with an embarrassing phrase.

What it really means:

According to Tian, “賈 means ‘buy/trade’, 路 means ‘road, path’, 卡 means ‘card’.”

By Tian’s guess, this tattoo means “a type of prepaid card that allows its owner to access public transportation.” Sick, bro!

This is ho-ho-horrible

What it’s supposed to mean:

Tree.

What it really means:

“The character is actually the Japanese katakana ホ (ho) not 木 (ki, tree). The mistaken use of ‘ho’ is quite unfortunate considering the woman as both subject and canvas. And yes, the hip-hop slang meaning of ‘ho’ (wh**e) is known in Japan and written with the same character.”

Luckily, this tattoo looks like it’s Photoshopped on.

So poetic!

What it’s supposed to mean:

The woman who got this tattoo was under the impression it means “beautiful.”

What it really means:

Unfortunately, it means “calamity, disaster or catastrophe.”

Funny how these terrible tattoos often end up being more fitting than their owners intended.

This man is either happy or pregnant (but probably not both)

What it’s supposed to mean:

“I was wondering if you could help me re-translate (hopefully correctly this time) my first ever tattoo!!,” writes Jeff. “The top should read ‘to excel’, the inside should read ‘strength’, the outside ‘to persevere’, and the bottom ‘to find happiness.’”

What it really means:

“In Japanese, 我慢 means ‘to persevere’ or ‘patience, endurance, perseverance.’ However, it means ‘I am slow’ in Chinese. 芽出度い, which can mean ‘happy’ but can also colloquially mean ‘pregnant’ or ‘crazy,’” Tian replies.

This is just sad

What it’s supposed to mean:

According to the writer, this tattoo is supposed to mean “friendship.”

What it really means:

According to Tian, it actually means, “bad looking, shame, ugly, unclean.”