Written in Ink – To Ink or Rethink?

To Ink, or Rethink Your Favorite Verse? That is the Question

Do script, verse, and character tattoos require a deeper meaning? I believe they do. From the translated quotes and verse tattoos to the Chinese characters on an arm, tattoos have more than just a translated meaning, but a philosophical and inspirational one too. Tattoos are more than imagery or words; they’re typically a statement of your personal philosophy. Ironically, popular script and verse tattoos can isolate you from others  rather than bring admiring viewpoints  In an article written by New York Times author Leslie Jamison, she discusses her desire for a tattoo, how long it took her to finally have it done, and then ultimately her dissatisfaction with her choice.
She had ‘nothing human is alien to me? translated into Latin tattooed on her arm. She loved the quote by the Roman playwright Terence; it fit her emotional state perfectly, at the time.

One summer, Jamison walked into a drugstore. The man at the check out stand looked at the tattoo and said to her ‘There are people going through things in this world that are really bad. Do you understand that’? Jamison attempted to discuss how her tattoo portrayed her ambition. The clerk persisted on, ‘You will leave a little piece of yourself with everyone you imagine. You will get exhausted trying to give yourself away,’ and Jamison did. She came to understand that the tattoo wasn’t really for her, but rather for her to inspire others and take what she needed from them. Her tattoo resonated negatively with the clerk, and he blocked the reaction that Jamison desired. He forced her to look deeper into her tattoo’s meaning. Her father even challenged her tattoo’s meaning, commenting on the genocide happening around the world.

Before inking your favorite verse, it’s important to note how other people will interpret your tattoo(s). As with Jamison’s tattoo, philosophical statements are often viewed through the lens of experience.

Bounce your script or verse tattoo idea off close friends and family and gage their reactions. People who know you well will challenge your idea and force you to think on a higher level about whether or not the tattoo represents you. Situations like Jamison’s show us the importance of truly and deeply understanding your motivation, your tattoo’s representation of your philosophy as well as how it’ll be interpreted by others. This is even more important in situations where your tattoo is translated wrong or written incorrectly like Hayden Panettiere’s famously misspelled Live without Regrets tattoo.

One of my best friends has a verse from the song Sick Hearts by The Used written into one of her tattoos. Years ago, we saw The Used live at the Marquee. We met the band after the concert and she proudly showed off her tattoo to the lead singer who then said, ‘Those are the wrong lyrics,’ ‘no they’re not,’ she replied. ‘I wrote the song, so I should know.’ Embarrassed, she explained what the lyrics meant to her regardless if they were wrong or not and there was no contest to her personal feelings on the lyrics by the singer. Upon arriving home after the concert, she looked up the lyrics everywhere and rest assured, she was right; her tatted lyrics were correct. I’m sure many have experienced this issue and possibly still had the wrong lyrics or words tattooed. What’s more embarrassing than having your philosophy on life or your ability to capture correct words is having the wrong translation


Translations can be tricky, especially when many of us are not fluent in a particular language. More often than not, those who walk into a tattoo shop and pick out a tattoo and have it translated into a foreign language end up translating some part of it wrong. At that point you either deal or you remove. Translator and blogger, Hanzi Smatter constantly shares mistranslated tattoos, mostly Asian translations that have gone awry. Asian symbols account for more than 90% of mistranslated tattoos in America. Our tip for having a translated tattoo: Ask someone who is fluent in the language to draw your tattoo in advance!

The meaning of script, verse, and lyric tattoos can vary in topic across the board. Everything from philosophical to a translation of ‘power.’ Thinking before you ink means looking inward, and discussing your tattoo before actually committing to the ink. Once you have and it is still a reflection of you, Confidently ink. In reality, smart decisions involve the ability to rethink before you ink.




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