Tatoo Spell-check: Do it or Regret it

It goes without saying that when getting a tattoo in a foreign language one should consult a translator if one is not familiar with the language. Some people do not do this. I repeat: SOME PEOPLE DO NOT DOUBLE CHECK THE MEANING OF THIER FOREIGN LANGUAGE TATTOO. For your enjoyment, I present to you this cautionary tale.

For a few years of my life I lived in Flagstaff, Arizona. My time there sometimes made me feel like a Mexican Harry Potter. Other Hispanic kids my age marveled at the fact that not only was I born to two parents of Mexican descent (they called this being full-blooded, I suppose they meant as opposed to being part muggle), but also because I knew how to speak Spanish fluently. Well, more fluently than them anyway. For the most part I kept my mouth shut when people made simple mistakes, like a girl who continually called her hairdo a monkey. Then came the day I could bite my tongue no longer.

A boy, who had lost his father two years before, decided to get a memorial tattoo. A permanent tattoo. In Spanish. After he pulled his sleeve back to reveal what should have been a sad and meaningful brand of honor on the inside of his arm, I unceremoniously laughed my butt off. The monkey-hair girl could only stare at me in shock. Out of breath and with tears streaming down my face, I apologized and explained that what should have said “I love you dad” actually said “I love you potato”.


Thankfully, all that was needed to correct this was a well-placed accent mark. But it could have been much, much worse. On an episode of the popular television show Big Bang Theory, one of the nerdish characters, Sheldon, asks the pretty girl next door why she has the Chinese character for soup tattooed on her. She scoffs at him and explains that her tattoo is actually courage. Sheldon replies, “No, it isn’t. But I suppose it does take courage to demonstrate that kind of commitment to soup.” If this had happened in real life, the heroine would have had to get it removed, covered up, or embrace a lifetime extolling broth-like goodness.

These sorts of mistakes can also happen in one’s own language if the tattoo-ee isn’t careful. The contraction “you’re” is often confused with the possessive pronoun “your”. And let’s not forget “their”, “there”, and “they’re”. It never hurts to double check. Believe me — that English teacher you might date in the future will thank you for it.

Hopefully no one reading this has made a similar mistake, but if you have–and you have a healthy sense of humor about it–or you know someone who has done something like this, let’s hear about it. No one will laugh. Probably.

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