Many Westerners travelling in China space struck by the bizarre English phrases bannered throughout the t-shirts frequently worn by young Chinese people. The slogans periodically seem ripped from the pages of English-language fashion magazines. Some show up to be direct translations of Chinese phrases; others room truly inexplicable—monstrous freaks the grammar and also syntax.

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However, maybe we must think twice prior to laughing. For plenty of years in the United states it has actually been popular to get tattoos portraying Chinese characters—or what us think room Chinese characters. This tendency has also spread to the show-business elite; Chinese personality tattoos now sprawl throughout some of the most high-profile skin over there is. Yet what do these tattoos actually say? take it for instance the Chinese characters tattooed under Nicki Minaj’s left arm.


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Nicki Minaj"s tattoo

This is supposedly Nicki’s only tattoo. The tattoo is six Chinese characters read sequentially from height to bottom:

上帝與你常在

Shàngdì yǔ nǐ cháng zài

This phrase appears to it is in a Christian-style blessing—‘God be v you’ or ‘God be with us.’ Let’s examine her tattoo much more closely to get a far better idea of what Nicki’s tattoo really means and how it means it. The an initial two characters in Nicki’s tattoo group together to kind one the the Chinese phrases because that the Christian God. ‘Shangdi’ was very first applied come the Christian God by 16 century Jesuit missionaries functioning in China, back the expression was originally used as one epithet because that the highest divine being of nature in old Chinese texts choose the book of Documents and also the standard of Poetry. After its early adoption, ‘Shangdi’ was later condemned through Pope Clement XI in 1704 as part of the so-called Chinese rites controversy, back the ax was ultimately rehabilitated by europe protestant missionaries, and also today enjoys broad currency within the Chinese Christian community. The characters shàng and also dì are both created correctly, although your proportions might show up a tiny wonky contrasted to the conventional version, as watched here: 上帝. Exactly how do friend think this traditional version compare through the characters in Nicki’s tattoo? The third character in Nicki Minaj’s tattoo, yǔ, is an article meaning ‘with’ or ‘and.’ the looks prefer this personality is written incorrectly. It is absent a upright stroke contrasted with the proper yǔ character, as seen here: . Deserve to you check out the difference? The fourth character, the 2nd person singular pronoun, nǐ, can be interpreted as ‘you.’ In this context, nǐ probably method ‘you’ in the sense of ‘everyone’ or ‘us all.’ This character shows up to be miswritten together well. The radical top top the left hand side have to be a ‘single person’ radical, however in Nicki’s tattoo, that radical looks much more like a ‘hand’ radical. The ideal hand next ‘ěr’ character is also crudely rendered, return legible and more-or-less passable, if not precisely correct, as compared with the typical character . Exactly how do friend think the character in Nicki’s tattoo compares? The fifth and sixth characters kind the expression ‘cháng zài.’ ‘cháng ’ method ‘often’ or ‘always’ and ‘zài’ method present, so one might translate the phrase as ‘abide v you’ or simply ‘with you,’ as in the sense of ‘Peace be v you,’ or ‘God be through you.’ However, this phrase as calculation in Nicki’s tattoo is no idiomatically correct. Return we can guess this phrase’s meaning, the an ext idiomatically correct phrasing would certainly be 同在 tóng zài, because tóng zài is the phrase most often used in Chinese-language Christian blessings. In comparison, cháng zài scans as slightly inauthentic or also strange. The personalities ‘cháng’ and also ‘zài’ room written relatively clearly, back the ‘dot’ of the fourth stroke in cháng is disconnected from the fifth stroke as soon as it need to connect, and the zài character simply looks a little bit sloppy and also carelessly etched. The exactly writing would certainly be 常在. Carry out you think these personalities look the very same as those in Nicki’s tattoo? when at first glance Nicki Minaj’s tattoo may show up stylish and exotic, its aesthetic and grammatical problems become glaring ~ above closer inspection. Probably she should have finished all of Integrated Chinese prior to getting a Chinese tattoo! yet the inquiry is—do these problems really matter? The crucial thing is the Nicki likes her tattoo.

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If she likes it, then neither pristine calligraphy nor perfectly idiomatic phrasing is important. While the is exciting to be conscious of what Chinese tattoos mean and also how they typical it, similar to all tattoos the is ultimately much more important that the person wearing the tattoo perform so comfortably and confidently.