Two More Tattoos For the Road

If you've been regularly reading this blog, you will know how much I emphasize proper research in obtaining a tattoo in a language of which you are not familiar. I always implore my readers to trust a professional translator or native speaker and then double-check the hell out of what they give you with other professionals or native speakers. With that said, this is once again what can happen if you do not.

The first example today is one that I've shown many examples of before. Native speakers of English (and other languages where aspects of grammatical gender have ceased to play a large part in the language) tend not to take the gender of a Hebrew or Aramaic phrase into account. Because of that we end up with problems such as this:

This image is being used under the doctrine of Fair Use.

It reads:

אני לדודי
ani ledodi
I am my beloved's

ודודי לי
udodi li
And my beloved is mine.

This tattoo was found on the back of a man as a tribute to his wife. Unfortunately, the word דודי dodi ("my beloved") is in the masculine form: "I am my beloved's (masculine) and my beloved (masculine) is mine."

This kind of mistake is one of the most pervasive one that I have seen because the translation is so readily available from any Hebrew edition of the Song of Songs and in English the word "beloved" has no gender.

Now this second one completely broke my heart. According to the owner, his grandfather knew Hebrew, so it was a large part of hearing him speak it during his childhood, so when his grandfather passed away, he wished to have the Hebrew word for "Grandad" tattooed across his back in big large letters. Take a look:

(© Dan O. This portion of the image utilized under Fair Use for criticism and educational purposes.)

In Hebrew... it is jibberish. To someone who speaks English, but knows the Hebrew alphabet, it's horrifying: It is the English word "Grandad" transliterated backwards in the Hebrew/Aramaic alphabet.


Allow me to leave you with the following thoughts:
  1. Don't trust what you happen to come across on the web. - A professional (preferably fluent with languages that are not dead or near-dead) translator with a good, strong record is the only way to go. That way, you can trust that you are getting something appropriate.
  2. Get an image of the text. - Don't rely upon your computer to display a font properly. What had probably happened with the above examples is that their computer did not display Hebrew Unicode in the proper right-to-left format. Also, other problems with encoding can happen, such as mojibake.
  3. Always get a second opinion. - "Measure twice, cut once" the old proverb goes (and for a reason). Always take the time to double-check the text before getting things inked. With things such as dead or nearly-dead languages this can be difficult but not impossible. For Hebrew and Jewish Aramaic, check your local synagogue. For Syriac, track down a Syrian or Assyrian church. For Sanskrit, a Hindu temple or Buddhist monestary. If all else fails, go to your local College or University, and poke around the religion and linguistics departments. If you explain why you want your translation doublechecked, they will sympathize. :-) Lastly, AramaicDesigns will double-check Aramaic tattoo translations for you pro bono, so simply email them in.

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