Interpreter seeks to correct mistakes in foreign-language tattoos

David Beckham tattoo
British football player David Beckham shows his tattoo to fans during his visit to Peking University.
Credit: Getty Images

Whether declaring love for the wrong person, or announcing a medical condition rather than a profound philosophy, an epidemic of tattoo mistakes are horrifying the body art community. The worst type is foreign-language messages, for which over 60 percent carry errors, according to interpreter Sharon Stephens of Veritas Language Solutions, who has set up Think Before You Ink, a consultancy designed to avoid such awkwardness.

Metro: Was it an especially disgusting tattoo that encouraged you to launch the company?

Stephens: Numerous really, there is huge demand for foreign language tattoos and I have seen some nightmares. I thought there needed to be a service that allowed people to check and make cancellations, as there was nothing before.

What are the most common or worst mistakes?

Chinese seems to be the main one. There was one man who thought he had ‘prosperity’ but it was ‘diarrhea’, another wanted ‘love and charity’ but got ‘sweet and sour chicken’. Since the campaign began people have approached us with more errors, David Beckham got his wife’s name wrong in Sanskrit, and one man annoyed a Chinese tattooist who wrote ‘cheapskate’ on his arm.

Interesting – so are the artists to blame?

They know what they are putting on, but people need to be aware that literal translations are often totally wrong so they need to be clear on the meaning. One artist told me he would always get a local Chinese restaurant to do translations.

Is the problem also that people get tattoos when they’re trashed and not thinking straight?

Western people seem to consider languages like Chinese to just be pictures rather than words, so they don’t really consider the meaning. More than six out of 10 are wrong. The smart ones check first.

Besides language, many tattoos are offensive for aesthetic reasons – will you support a campaign against these?

I agree, but we can’t do much about that. People need to take responsibility, as a mistake can be devastating.



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