Tattoo translations gone horribly wrong

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Don’t live on pins and needles: save your skin from tattoo blunders


Tattoos last a lifetime, but mistranslations don’t have to. Learn from these mistakes and live with no regrets!

Imagine this.

Straight out of the studio, you run home to snap some shots of your newly inked tattoo. You strategically place yourself in exactly the right spot, making sure to capture your stylish new masterpiece in that “oh-so-perfect” lighting. Happy with your results, you proudly post to Instagram – #tatitup #BuzzArt #tatdreams. You sit back and watch the hearts come rolling in ❤❤❤. Your followers seem to love it. Until, just a few hours later, the shocker comes! A follower reveals your tattoo’s true meaning. What you thought said ‘Strength’ in Hebrew, actually means: ‘Matzo’. The Jewish word for a type of unleavened crispy bread.

tattoo fail
Image: Tattoo of Hebrew word “Matzo” Source:

Or even worse: you find out that you’ve got ‘Chicken noodle soup’ stamped on your back instead of the Chinese proverb: ‘You are responsible forever for that you tame’. Oops!

tattoo fails
Image: Chicken noodle soup tattoo Source:

As unbelievable and cringeworthy as it may seem, epic fails like this happen all the time. Maybe you’d like to tap into your roots and honour your ancestry by getting a tattoo in Arabic or Russian? Or you just want to express your creativity with some unique art in a beautiful foreign language, like Gaelic or Japanese? Easy, just type your word or phrase into Google Translate, wait … and voilà! You’ve got your translation. No skin off your back, right? Well, don’t count on it.

Apart from the unintentional side effects of tattoo howlers, such as being publicly ridiculed on social media sites like Pinterest or the unwanted attention of people asking too many questions, your self-esteem could take a major blow. You may feel judged and embarrassed by your tattoo, instead of feeling liberated and pleased to show it off. What’s more, removal cannot only be painful, but pricey. Depending on the colours used and the size/age of the tattoo, as well as the surgeon’s experience and equipment, the cost of laser treatment can range anywhere from $200 to $500 per session. Ouch!

All this, however, doesn’t mean tat-fans need to forgo getting a tattoo in a foreign language. When looking for INKspiration, it’s vital to research in detail or even consult an expert. Proper translation involves having an excellent grasp of the source language. After all, a single word can have multiple meanings depending on the context. The spelling should also be double-checked and then carefully implemented by the tattoo artist. Many “tat-tastrophes” simply have incorrectly written characters resulting in pure nonsense, a type of gibberish. Take for example, Hebrew and Arabic: unlike English, they are written from right to left, and in the case of Arabic, the letters need to be connected in order for the words to make any sense at all. In the end, it’s worth it to do your homework, as the costs of tomorrow could greatly outweigh those of today – both emotionally and financially.

Moral of the story: remember to think before you ink. Otherwise, you could end up like these folks!

Tattoo blunders

tattoo blunders
Blunder 1: Mistranslation of ‘Nada acontece por acaso’ (Nothing happens by chance) Source:


Tattoo blunder
Blunder 2: Hayden Panettiere’s misspelt tattoo of ‘Live without regrets’ in Italian (Vivere senza rimipianti, a mistake for Vivere senza rimpianti) Source:


tattoo fails
Blunder 3: Surname ‘Botrokoff’ literally translated into ‘No translation’ by Google Translate Source:

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