Right now I’m double checking all the Chinese text in my dissertation, so I was happy to see this post in Languagelog:
Hanzi Smatter is a blog “[d]edicated to the misuse of Chinese characters (Hanzi or Kanji) in Western culture”.
A lot of the site is devoted to tattoos.
For example, an entry from December 1 pictures someone who meant to tattoo 精 (jing1) “essence, semen, spirit” on his elbows, but by splitting the character into the two radicals 米 (mi3) “uncooked rice” and 青 (qing1 or jing1) “blue, green, black; young”, managed instead to display “green rice”.
I know of a woman in my yoga class who has such an incorrect Chinese tattoo on her neck. I’ll have to ask if I can take a picture of it and send it in to the site. I forget the full phrase she wanted, but instead of “good” 好 she only got the half of the character which means “woman” 女, making nonsense of the whole thing.
My advice: If you are going to get a Chinese character tattooed on your body, first find a Chinese speaking friend to proofread it for you. For my dissertation I decided to take advantage of Unicode and to provide both the Chinese characters and the phonetic transcription (including tone marks) wherever I introduce a translated phrase or proper name. This isn’t a standard practice — it is much more work, but I think it will make it easier for many Chinese speakers to read my dissertation. It will also make it easier for non-Chinese speakers to then conduct research based on my dissertation. I was inspired by the decision of the Taipei Times to start including Chinese characters immediately after the names. But I couldn’t have done this without the help of a Taiwanese friend who has graciously agreed to help me proofread all of this.
Two more days!