lost in translation

Posted on January 28, 2010
Filed Under language | Leave a Comment


Here a Latin scholar talks about some of the errors in translation he has found in the work of  tattoo artists

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.
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