I spent a fair portion of Thursday at the AdTech trade show. While I was there, I saw a person with Hebrew lettering tattooed on his forearm. The tattoo consisted of three words, and while the lettering was clearly Hebrew, I couldn't make out the words.
Then I realized what I was seeing -- the tattoo was backwards!
Once I realized that, I was able to read the first two words -- Elo-(h)-im Shel -- but I still couldn't make out the third word.
You might think that bad Hebrew tattooing doesn't happen very often -- but you'd be wrong. There is, in fact, a blog dedicated to bad Hebrew tattoos -- which includes misspellings, horrible transliterations, backwards words, incorrect (or nonsense) words being used, and all other sorts of possible errors. You'd think that if you were going to go to the trouble of having a foreign word permanently tattooed on your skin -- and (because more often than not when Hebrew is used it has a religious theme) it has some deeper meaning for you, you would double and triple check to make sure that everything is correct.
I considered telling the guy at the show about the tattoo, but then decided against it. I figured that one of the following were probably true:
1. He already knew about it.
2. He didn't know about it, but neither did anyone he hung out with.
3. He didn't know, but since it was done already, there was no point in making him feel bad about the mistake.
UPDATE: A little research has turned up what has to be the worst Hebrew lettered tattoo of all time -- the one belonging to Danielle Lloyd.
The Danielle Lloyd tattoo, that's something truly special. Sooner or later it will end up in my blog too!
I generally tell people when I see this sort of thing since I think they should know. However, my confidence in my Hebrew isn't 100% so often the conversation goes:
Me: Excuse me, but what is that tattoo supposed to say?
Person: Blah blah blah.
Me: Um, I don't think it says that.
my favorite is when אני לדודי ודודי לי is improperly used by men
My favourite is the picture of the Jewish biker with the YKVK on his forehead. Doesn't he realize that he can't go into the bathroom with his head on anymore!?
Once I was working in the ER and a non-Jewish guy came in bcause of a cough. So I had him take off his shirt to listen to his lungs and behold, he had a huge tatoo of JC on the cross and, in Hebrew, the words "Yeshu yakum".
Feeling mischevious, I asked him what his tatoo said. He told me "Jesus rises". I said "Well actually I speak Hebrew and it really says "Jam and bread".
He left swearing he was going to have a word with the artist who did it...
Same for Japanese/Chinese tattoos where the artist saw some kanji online and doesn't know what it means exactly, or the artist is making fun of the gwailoh (white devil).
I saw a FAQ some time ago on why you should not get a tattoo in Latin, it boiled down to several points:
1) Not everything that sounds pithy in English sounds pithy in Latin
2) DO you really want to trust a bunch of strangers on the net to translate your tattoo?
3) Someone might see it and expect that you actually know latin
omnia plus profundia in lingua latina est!
My daughter once saw a man in the USA with the word in Hebrew for deformity or mutilation (transliterated MUM) tatooed on himself. She wanted to ask him (but didn't) do you really know what that means? & why would you ever want that tatooed on yourself?
I suspect the fellow your daughter saw had a translitterated "Mom" rather than a Hebrew "Mum", but I could be wrong.
There's another "Bad Hebrew Tattoos" blog out there, which is http://hebrewtattoos.blogspot.com/
It explains the Hebrew behind the tattoos, giving links to explaining what went wrong, how to learn Hebrew through these mistakes, and so on.
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