Bad Hebrew/Aramaic Tattoos

A while back, Codex (the blog of Tyler F. Williams, the Chair of the Religion & Theology Department and Assistant Professor of Old Testament/Hebrew Bible at Taylor University College in Edmonton, Alberta... whew what a run :-) ) did a both hilarious and sad (and hilariously sad) study on mis-translated Hebrew and Aramaic tattoos.

Well, guess what?

They keep happening!

I've come across two more:

The passage below is supposed to be taken from the Hebrew of the Song of Songs "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine."

It is backwards. It should read:

אני לדודי ודודי לי
Ani ledodi vedodi li

Jesus appears to be scowling in disapproval.

Additionally this tattoo is on the arm of a man. "Dodi" is the masculine form of "beloved" so this backwards text, even when corrected means "I am my beloved's (masculine) and my beloved (masculine) is mine." Perhaps the bearer was trying to refer to Jesus? If so that would make sense. If they were referring to their sweatheart... not so much.

As if this one was bad enough, it looks like someone copied it for this tattoo:

Again backwards, and wrong gender.

If you are thinking of getting a tattoo, I cannot stress enough how serious such an endeavor is. I have helped over 300 people get tattoos done in the last year as a translator, and when you decide to get a translation done I recommend that you strive for the following:
  1. Don't trust a tattoo gallery website. - 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. The above two images were found on which has a big blaring disclaimer not to trust anything posted there. This didn't seem to stop our friends.
  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. :-) will double-check Aramaic tattoo translations pro-bono.
--Steve Caruso

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