Why you should only get a tattoo after consulting with a professional translator.

… And by professional translator, I mean a human, and by tattoo I mean a tattoo of/with wording in a foreign language.

Over the years, and with the help of the Internet, we have all come across a photo, article or comment, about how funny some tattoos can be. And I do not mean tattoos with a funny theme or depiction, but those made out of letters, words, or phrases that people choose to have inked on their bodies. Permanently.

I believe we have all seen the most popular ones; tattoos in Chinese, done on non Chinese-speaking individuals, and we have all heard the stories about how the person getting them thought it meant something really cool, only to realize (or not, in many cases) later that instead of having written “Freedom” on their body, they actually wrote something like “The server is down,” or “Free domain.” (For non-tattoo related funny translations, check out this page: Funny Translations!

As a tattoo fan myself, I know from experience that most people who decide to get a tattoo think long and hard about what they want to get. After all, it’s supposed to be permanent, so you really have to think about what you want to get, why, where, and if you will be as happy about it years later as you are the moment you decide to get that particular design.

So, what I don’t understand is why some people don’t research their choice of phrase, words, etc. There are, of course, those who get tattoos on impulse; this is not about them. Getting a tattoo on impulse is evidence enough of a person not having thought it all the way through, so the results are acceptable either way. No, I’m talking about those who make a supposedly “informed” decision.

This is what gave me reason to write this article, for the people who are serious about their tattoos. My advice? Never trust software with the translation you need. Never trust a non-native individual or professional ” translator,”  that is a person claiming to be a translator just because they speak – or think they speak – the language, to give you the correct words you need.  Never trust blindly what you might have read online, or seen written in your favorite author’s books, especially if they are fiction; just because you think it’s accurate it’s not always something good with which to ink your body

Let’s look at some examples. “Nolege is power.” And yet, this person did not think to invest even in a simple search to gain some knowledge to get the desired result.


Now this tattoo is simply embarrassing, certainly funny, and could have been done by anyone, native or not in the English language. It’s just (very) bad spelling.

Let’s take a look at another example.”Too cool for scool.” Well, I’d say “Kid, stay in school, you ain’t got this”. 😛 Another example of how bad spelling can ruin an otherwise nice idea. Again, native speakers and non native ones can easily make this “scooling” error.


But here’s another, slightly different, example. This one’s located on the person’s upper chest. The design is great! The word you see there is Greek. It is the word “Δωρεάν”, meaning “free of charge“. What do you want to bet that he was aiming for “FREE”, as in “I’m free,” or as in “freedom,” and got “free of charge” instead? He may not know it, but any Greek speaking person would. Now, judging by his surroundings and the articles I found about this case, I think it would be safe to say he does not live in Greece, so he probably either found the translation online, or asked the wrong person(s).


Let’s hope he is not planning on travelling to Greece, because well, people can be mean with this kind of things. But unbeknownst to his, he became famous, or rather the photo of his chest did. It circulated all over the Greek cybersphere, websites and articles, because of his choice to not consult a professional. It actually went viral!

Let’s move now to the world of sports. A famous Greek football player, during a World Cup tournament some years ago, got heavily teased about a Japanese tattoo he had on his arm; apparently in Japanese it meant something different than what he originally had in mind, and the Japanese people watching the match, spotted it and blow up Twitter with comments.


From what I was told and from what I read online, instead of something like “cold-blooded killer,” the athlete ended up with “cold murder demon,” where “cold” is an attribute to weather in this case. I’m guessing he did not have a “demon, murdering cold weather” in mind when he asked for the tattoo, but that’s what he got in the end. I can only imagine how “uncool” he felt after discovering that… by thousands of people teasing him about it.

And last, but not least: Bad tattoos as a result of book worming!

A few years ago, I started reading this awesome series by a famous American writer. It was great work, belonged to paranormal romance, my favourite, the characters and stories were amazing, everything was great, except for one teeny tiny flaw (at least for me as a Greek). The writer had chosen to incorporate in the story words or phrases that were of “Greek” origin or in a more made up language, which was also based in Greek, and Latin, etc. As I read these types of books in their original language, English, it was very strange for me to see Greek-like words among the story, and that is something I usually enjoy as a tribute to my native tongue, but this time it was even stranger because most of the words were actually…weirdly incorrect. They were either badly spelled, or completely out of context.

So, as a good geek and loyal bookworm, I went ahead and contacted the author, or her staff as this case may be, through Facebook, and told her/them about this. I explained the issue nicely, and begged for future stories that she would either consult with any professional translator, or an association of translators like PEEMPIP, or better yet me (what an honor that would be, right?) for the Greek phrases she needed, so that the story wouldn’t get spoiled for her Greek fans, or even other fans who spoke Greek. I received a very polite answer that they would take that into consideration, that they would let her know about this, and that the author puts a lot of research in her work (which is true, by the way, and she is highly educated in history), and they were thanking me in the end for being loyal to the series. And I thought everything would be alright from that point on.

However, when the next book in the series came out, I was surprised to find that the author had included several pages worth of an Author’s Note, explaining that the “foreign language” she was using in the books was not Modern Greek, nor exactly Ancient Greek, but a combination of both with made up elements in the mix; to that she was adding that  in some cases she used the creativity that humans normally apply in the creation or use of words when a language is evolving, which is linguistically true, and that some words she was using were specifically created or adapted, so as not to bore the reader with historic explanations, etc. And that was a trully honest explanation. I respect that. What was not fine though was that I kept discovering photos of other fans throughout the world, with words or phrases from the books tattooed on their bodies. Since the Author’s note came like in the seventeenth book or so, they had already gotten tattoos. And since they do not live in the ancient times and non-existing cities described in the books, but in the here and now, any one of those people had inked bad writing on their bodies. Why? Because they did not ask a professional translator if their chosen wording was correct.

For example: This one is from one of her fans. The fan tried to have “I was not born; I was unleashed” tattooed on her arm. What she got, in Greek, is something close to:


“I was not born.
I was; he unleashed.”

The accents in Greek are missing (but let’s call that a misdemeanor). The second phrase makes absolutely no sense to be honest. The person that chose this ph

rase did not ask a professional translator first!!

Another fan tried to have the names of two of the heroes in the books tattooed on her back. The heroes were aptly named Acheron and Styxx respectively. In Greek, both these names are the names of rivers that in ancient times were linked to the underworld (see Acheron, and Styx), so you can imagine some heavy history behind them.  So, excellent choice for these particular character’s names, very to the point. But the resulting tattoo? Not so much.


The writing on the left is a decent attempt at “Αχέροντας,” which would have been correct in Greek if it had a final “s” at the end, and the right one is, well, a semi-decent attempt at “Στυξξ,” which is not exactly a correctly spelled word because in Greek “Styx” is “Στυξ,” and the word in the book “Styxx” has an extra x in it for effect, but does not seem so cool when Greeks are reading it.

My point here is that, both these tattoos could have been much better if the fans had asked for a good translation of the original English words, and if they had double-checked that the book does indeed contain acceptable things to put on their bodies; because, like I said before, they don’t live in ancient times, nor made up cities, and they are likely to meet Greek people, or travel to Greece, or post the photos on Facebook where Greeks can see them 🙂 And if you’re not a fan of the books, to be able to get the meaning behind the attempts in these tattoos, well, you would just find it weird.

And it’s not just about tattoos. For example, in one part of a book, the writer tells how a woman is looking at a beautiful ring (sort of a wedding band), which was a gift for her from her love interest. The band has writing on it, and we are told that the writing is “ΔΙΚΟΣ ΣΑΣ.” We later receive the explanation that the writing meant “Faithfully yours.” However, my friends, in Modern Greek that is not what it means. “ΔΙΚΟΣ ΣΑΣ” means simply “YOURS” and can be used if a male person is saying “I’m yours” to either one female or a group of people. I don’t know how best to describe it, but that is definitely not something you want tattooed on you, nor on your wedding band, if “Faithfully yours” is what you have in mind.

To sum up, #hireapro is always a good advice for these situations. Ask a professional translator if what you are planning to write (anywhere!!) is correct.  Give them context, the back story, explain what you need, and they can guide you.

At least, if something goes wrong, you can blame them and not yourself for a bad decision 😉


  1. The article was edited by my bestie, Valentini, from Leximania, and I sincerely thank her for helping me out!
  2. This blog claims no credit for any images posted on this site unless otherwise noted. Images on this blog are copyright to its respectful owners. If there is an image appearing on this blog that belongs to you and do not wish for it appear on this site, please E-mail with a link to said image and it will be promptly removed.

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