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Chinese Tattoo – Evil Bird Camphor

A few observations on celebrities:

  • They make good money.
  • They have a lot of friends and know a wide circle of people.
  • They like tattoos.
  • They like unique, provocative tattoos.

So when a celebrity actor, musician, or athlete wants a Chinese character tattoo, it seems reasonable that they probably include some Chinese people in their wide circle of associations. Perhaps they even have a  Chinese friend. And they certainly have the resources to hire a Mandarin speaker for an hour.    A celebrity ought to be in position to make sure that his Chinese tattoo says what he wants it to say.   Sadly, many celebrities failed to arrange for this help.

Singer Britney Spears had chinese characters inked on her right hip that were supposed to say “Mysterious, amazing”.  Instead, what she got translates as “Strange”.  I never thought of her as strange, more sad.

Justin Timberlake had a tattoo inked for his movie Alpha Dog. He didn’t have the tat needled to make it permanent though.  It’s a good thing because his plan was a Mandarin symbol that would match the tough guy image of his drug dealer gangster character. What he got were characters that say “Ice skating”.

The top field for bad celebrity Chinese tattoos is sports.  Former top ranked tennis player Marat Safin has a shoulder tattoo that says “Monkey”. Surprisingly, this is not a mistranslation; he actually wanted it to say monkey because to recognize that he was born in the Chinese year of the monkey. Problem is, he was actually born in the year of the ram.

Shawne Merriman was a Probowl linebacker known as one of the toughest, most physical players in a tough, physical game. His Mandarin symbol says “Ouch”. He probably wanted to imply that he would cause pain in others. Somehow “ouch” doesn’t really get that across. “Ouch” is just not very intimidating.

Francesco Coco won a World Cup on the Italian national soccer team.  No one knows what he wanted his Chinese tattoo to say.   We can be pretty sure, though, that he didn’t want it to say “Husband hands”.  But that’s what he got.

Long time NBA player Marquis Daniels wanted his initials in Chinese. Talented ballers apparently don’t have to study so much in school.  No one ever taught him that there are no letters to use as initials in Mandarin. Characters are words. The tattoo artist didn’t tell him, either. So instead of “M A D”, Daniels’ characters are words – “healthy woman roof”. I assume he was pretty MAD when he found out.

Shawn Marion, a four time NBA allstar, wanted his tattoo to say “The Matrix.”  He got something pretty close. His arm now sports the impressive message “Evil bird camphor.” I guess if evil birds are eating your sweaters, try camphor to keep ’em away.

Imagine the perspective of Chinese speakers in the U.S. They must encounter people with bad Mandarin tattoos all the time. Ordinary people also like to have mysterious Chinese characters (that they cannot read) etched permanently on their bodies.  Chinese speakers must get together and laugh hard at these people, swapping stories of the mistakes that they have seen and puzzling over what it was the person wanted to say.

A website is run by a frustrated Chinese speaker who tired of laughing at so many mistakes.  He will check a proposed tattoo for free. He is Tian and is reachable at So ordinary people have no excuse. Celebrities, though, certainly have no excuse.

At least the celebrity Chinese miscues  don’t make errors as gross as some ordinary folk’s Chinese tattoos.  A British hairdresser thought he paid $125 for  “Love, honor, and obey” on his arm. He approached some Chinese girls at a night club to show it off.  When they could stop laughing and catch their breath, they told him that it actually says “At the end of the day, this is an ugly boy.”

Other epic fails that have been permanently etched on etched bodies include “Meanie crime poet”, “Mad diarrhea”, and “Pig face”.  A man who wanted “Freedom” instead got “Free of charge”. He probably paid a lot for “free of charge”.

Other Chinese tattoos that pretty certainly came out a bit differently than planned include “Sesame chicken”, “Swift dumb”, “Small animal big mistake”, and “Pull dude power bastard”. My personal favorite is “Free rides on turgid model mold”.

The moral of this story:  When getting a Chinese tattoo, take a Mandarin speaker with you.