Sunday, July 11, 2010

Latin Tattoos

Every couple of months the department gets another Latin translation request for either a tattoo or a slogan of some sort.

Most of them would be inane in English, so I suppose I should applaud the attempt to give their ink a little class but honestly, "Drive it like you stole it" is ridiculous in any language.

Our most recent request is to render "Be Real" into the Roman tongue. I do not know where to begin, and so will not.

I just keep picturing this person walking about with some Latin scrawl on his skin, accosted by friends and strangers, "Hey dude, what's your tat say?" He'll snort in derision, already accustomed to the question and ready, albeit grudgingly, to enlighten the unwashed masses. "It says Be Real. In Latin." The interrogator will nod sagely. "That's deep, man."

In a fit of pique, I turned to the internet, ready to behold what other people were inscribing on their flesh in this language I hold so dear. The findings, my dear friends, were not unsatisfactory. Not in the least.

There are generally 3 categories of Latin tattoos as far as I can tell.
  1. Traditional, quoted good Latin - Carpe Diem, Odi et Amo, Alis Volat Suis, etc.
  2. Dog Latin, largely 'incorrect' but in wide use - Nolite te bastardes carborundorum, etc.
  3. Absolute fucking gibberish
To that end, I've got some presents for you. The following pictures are all relatively safe for work, but some do show a hefty amount of skin. You've been warned. Category One - Good Latin, Poor Execution:

Yup. That's how you write '1981.' I guess that was a good year for you?

'The spoken word dies; the written letter remains.'

Or, in the parlance of our times, 'If you think this looks like shit now, check back again in ten years.'

'Now I know what love is.'

If love is a permanent invitation to stare at your thighs, I suppose you're right. Now I know.

Category Two - Close, but no cigar:

Fake Latin for 'Don't let the bastards grind you down.'

There are almost a dozen variants of this phrase, all of which make no sense. Namely because 'carbarundrume' isn't a goddamned word.

Still, it was nice of her to try to draw attention away from that sad little heart & bones on her left shoulder.

This is what happens when you let Word auto-correct your tattoo.

Amor est vitae essentia means 'Love is the stuff of life.' This? This means 'Love is life's essential.'

So close.

I think this person was trying to say:

'Charley and Cash:
My Children
My Life
My Heart of Hearts
Something about my Soul'

It came out (roughly):

'Charley and Cash:
My Childrens
My Live
Chest's Chest
Because Spirit'

But really, the flames forgive all shortcomings.

Category Three - Complete Gibberish:

"He is better as I appear hated on behalf of what I am
than as I appear I like on behalf of what not I am."

A perfect example of that delightful stage of language learning where you know enough to make a complete ass of yourself and not enough to realize the extent to which you've done so.

Fortunately, most of us do not have these (natural) mistakes emblazoned on our chests forever.

Left: An attractive crucified man
Right: A man who is happy about a sacrifice
Me: WTF?

This is what happens when you put crap into a 'Latin Translator.'

And as far as I can tell, some schmuck was trying to put this shitty poem into Latin. Even if it had come out right, it'd still be shit.

Instead of trying to explain how absolutely wrong this is, allow me to explain what this person got right. Two words: vita and alius. I'm pretty sure those can stay. Everything else should clear the hell out.

You know, I liked Pulp Fiction a lot, too.

But I didn't like it so much that I needed a quarter of my chest devoted to Sam Jackson's badass Biblical quotation. I sure as hell didn't need it put in Latin. If I did need it in Latin, I wouldn't have put it through an online translator, either. Why do you people think this is a good idea?

Look, it even left "of" in your text.


That should have been a clue that your translation was not ready to be etched forever into your flesh. Also, when you're running it through the translator, make sure you've spelled the English correctly in first place, mm?

It should have read "though I walk in the valley..." not "thought I walk..."

How can I tell? You've got "sententia" sitting right there as the third word. Come to think of it, it should read "sententia" but you managed to misspell in Latin the word you misspelled in English.

That's fucking incredible.

The only thing more incredible?

Someone else clearly had the exact same idea.


Edit: The last two quotations are not, in fact from Pulp Fiction. While the Pulp Fiction quotation is a curious blend of Psalm 23.4 and Ezekiel 25.17, there's a healthy dose of extra bad-assery thrown in. Still, these translations are about as far from Latin as it gets.

But. If you'd like the relevant part of Ezekiel in Latin, here you go:

"faciamque in eis ultiones magnas arguens in furore et scient quia ego Dominus cum dedero vindictam meam super eos."

Have fun.


  1. I lol'd. Thank you. People's stupidity never ceases to amaze me.

  2. Actually the poem goes like this:

    The moving hand writes
    And having writ, moves on
    Neither all your tears nor all your wit
    Shall lure it back
    To erase half a line
    Or change one word of it