Getting Inked. No eraser. Halp!
November 10, 2008 2:09 PM   Subscribe

[TranslationFilter] Or maybe it's Tattoo filter. Need help with a translation (or a transliteration maybe) for a tattoo. Phrase and options inside.

Language options: Latin preferably, Gaelic, Blackfoot/Crow, Cherokee, Chocktaw are all optional too.

"never forget, never surrender."

I've tried it about a thousand times in several combinations, but as none of these are natural languages for me I get hung up on the details.

Secondary question: I don't believe in tattoos I can't see on myself. I want it visible but not in a place it'll make it hard for me to get employment. I'm a fan of forearms and wrists, not so much biceps. Where/what do you recommend for scripted ink? Pain isn't really an issue. Ankle? Calf? You tell me.

Maybe you're a wicked good artist and you have a great idea in your head about what to do with this tat. It's to remind me of what's happened in the past and how to keep moving on. Feel free to mail me your sketches or w/e, email's in the profile. I'll totally send you a free HDMI cable if I like your design. (I kid, I kid.)

Thanks folks.
posted by TomMelee to Writing & Language (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't know how hot it gets where you live, but you may want to think about heat and long-sleeved shirts before you tattoo anything on your lower arms or wrists. I would go for the inside of one calf, but that's just a personal preference. Keep in mind that any weight you may gain over time will distort the tattoo, so look for a section of skin that will stretch fairly evenly. (IANAD and I don't really know how men tend to put on weight.)

And I have no idea how you could translate that. I'd love to hear the answer, though.
posted by mitzyjalapeno at 2:25 PM on November 10, 2008

Before getting a tattoo in a language you don't know, please consider the opportunities for pretentiousness, cultural appropriation, and unintentially hilarious translation error.

What's wrong with English? Wouldn't such a deeply meaningful motto be even more powerful in a language that you actually understand?
posted by ottereroticist at 3:00 PM on November 10, 2008 [5 favorites]

I've seen some pretty goofy translations on AskMe highlighted as "best answers." Meaning, even if some internet linguist provides you with spiffy translations, are you in a position to confirm that they are as spiffy as you think they are? I think you would get much more trustworthy results by sitting down with an actual native speaker of that language, and discussing nuances and options with them. Your local university with many international graduate students, plus a large linguistics department, would be the easy way to find natively fluent speakers of pretty much any language.

Text tattoos are the tramp stamps (or the tribal armbands, or the celtic knots, or, well, you get the idea) of this moment in time, along with stars. Regardless of location, it's going to look dated in a few years, so take that into consideration when considering where to put it. Avoid areas that will change really rapidly if you gain/lose weight, and avoid areas that will require you to wear long sleeves in the middle of summer if your job is not ok with visible ink. Think about what happens when you move, also. I saw a text tattoo just yesterday that distorted really oddly when the guy straightened his arm -- his tattoo was designed and inked in with his arm bent, and no one seemed to consider what happens in the 90% of the time his arm isn't bent into that exact position.

For seeing a lot of photos of text tattoos, both good and terrible, the galleries at BMEzine are hard to beat -- that link goes to the lettering gallery, which has close to a thousand pages of images. Lots of text tattoos are also shown in the modblog, on that same site. It won't answer your translation question, but it will let you see pretty much every combination of text location, typeface/script/etc, and color.
posted by Forktine at 3:37 PM on November 10, 2008

I opted for (inside) wrist for pretty much the same reasons as you - also script (see here if interested). I figured it could be fairly easily hidden under an armband/bracelet/wristwatch. As a guy you'll probably easily find a watch that will cover a script. And I LOVE the fact that I can can look at my tattoo whenever I please (without any contortions).

I can't answer the first part of your question. Agree with the people who say do it in English tho. Unless you, I don't know, don't want any random observers to know what it says.

On preview, totally agree with Forktine about the
Think about what happens when you move, also.
I had not considered this at all and my tattoo artist convinced me to place the tattoo quite differently from what I had originally planned. I am grateful to him for it.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 3:43 PM on November 10, 2008

I can't offer any help with translation, but I do have a suggestion. If you want to have a text tattoo, but still do something interesting with it, what about an ambigram? They read the same way upside down as rightside up - google "ambigram" for examples. I'm not a huge fan of tattoos myself, but a friend got an ambigram tattoo of the word "pride" and it looks pretty cool, and not the run-of-the-mill Celtic/Asian/Tribal stuff that every other person seems to have.
posted by dicaxpuella at 4:54 PM on November 10, 2008

Seconding the ambigram idea. Very cool things, those.

Also, I hate that I can't help but be reminded of 4chan's Anonymous by the motto itself. D:
posted by DoctorFedora at 5:16 PM on November 10, 2008

OP, are you Crow, Cherokee, Blackfoot or Chocktaw?
posted by DieHipsterDie at 5:44 PM on November 10, 2008

Ok, well, thanks for hte mildly pretentious answers.

Number 1, I'm getting a tattoo for me, for only me, and everyone else can sod off. I bought a pink digital camera yesterday (I'm a dude, it was on sale), what anyone else thinks matters not to me. You're right, I don't speak those languages, but I would if I could. I'll have to settle for German and Spanish and reading Russian. Ok so I'm only decent at German, but I'm NOT German.

Background on the tattoo? I'm an ex-felon who has done something pretty incredible with my life, I'm proud of where I am, I've been through the worst and come out on top, and I haven't had to screw anyone in the process. I have had people try to keep me down and I bested them. I just moved to a great job in Florida and everything is coming out peachily.

As for my heritage, because that matters apparently:
My mom is a professional geneologist. My family emigrated from the island of Sleet in the era of the death of William Wallace to evade British colonialism and settled in Ireland. From there they came to the US, where they became involved with the Crow and Blackfoot. (And the Lakota and the Sioux, but whatever.) My father is Cherokee/Chocktaw, he has a number. I don't, I'm one generation far enough away. In case you don't know, the Chocktaw were the first fully "americanized" nation, and their language and culture pretty much fell by the wayside. We all know what happened to the Cherokee.

As for it being in a language I don't speak, neither do most people. That's the point. I'm not getting it for most people, I'm getting it for me. I don't want to put "Never Forget, Never Surrender" on my arm so that people can ask me what happened. I'm not looking for some BS Kanji crap, it's not about a message I want to project. It's about me.

That clear it up enough?

FWIW, I'll also be getting the Sick of it All brushstroke dragon at or around the same time.
posted by TomMelee at 6:36 PM on November 10, 2008

Perhaps you could get in touch with Durbin Feeling, a native speaker (and teacher of) Cherokee at the University of Oklahoma. He wrote a Cherokee (Tsalagi) dictionary and would probably be able to translate your phrase fairly easily.
posted by tractorfeed at 6:57 PM on November 10, 2008

I'm an engineer. I have a tattoo on my forearm of a tree I got this summer that sticks out in shortsleeves, my common work attire. It's not been a problem at all.
posted by garlic at 7:09 PM on November 10, 2008

I'll see what I can do with a phrase like that tomorrow, in Latin.

Just FYI, the language information would be very helpful before the cut.
posted by paisley henosis at 10:02 PM on November 10, 2008

I've seen some pretty goofy translations on AskMe highlighted as "best answers." Meaning, even if some internet linguist provides you with spiffy translations, are you in a position to confirm that they are as spiffy as you think they are? I think you would get much more trustworthy results by sitting down with an actual native speaker of that language, and discussing nuances and options with them.

I strongly second this. No offense to paisley henosis, but "I'll see what I can do" is an attitude that often results in bad translations, and you'll have no way of knowing. I realize it's only for you and you don't care what other people think, but if (for whatever reason) you want a tattoo in a language you don't know, don't you want it to be right? Also, you might want to rethink your mildly belligerent response to the commenters here. I don't think anyone's being "pretentious"—we just want you to get a tattoo you'll be happy with.
posted by languagehat at 7:40 AM on November 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

~ I strongly second this. No offense to paisley henosis, but "I'll see what I can do" is an attitude that often results in bad translations, and you'll have no way of knowing.

No offense taken, it is a good point. Because it is such a good point, I'll put this out there: between advanced-level classes in high school, and special programs, I took over 6 years of Latin, translating a wide range from Vulgate, to Caesar's Gaulic War, to Cicero's orations and the Metamorphoses. I have taught intro-level Latin classes both as a tutor, and in a high school; my original major in college was secondary school Latin education.

I also haven't used my Latin regularly in around 6 years, so I can't just pull this stuff out of my head the way I could before.

The standard way to say "don't" in Latin is to use the word the Romans used, not to try to create a negative imperative form of "to do." The way they encouraged one another to refrain from doing something was to say (literally) "be unwilling to be led astray," or "refuse to be turned off course." It sounds clumsy, when you translate it out the long way into English, but the meaning is the same, and historically, that is how they took care of that. As you may have noticed, the verb takes an infinitive, so a simple, English "don't forget" turns into the much longer "be unwilling to forget" when translated literally. But it's still only two words, and idiomatically, it conveys the same notion.

Latin being a much more inflected language than English, you have to choose whether this imperative is addressing many people or a single person, and you have to be consistent with that choice. If this is a reminder to yourself, my guess is that you would want it to be addressed to you, not to all of you people, but I'll give you both versions and let you pick.

Next word is "forget." The word for "to learn" in Latin is "discere," and by applying a negating prefix to the front of that, you get "dediscere," "to unlearn," which is forgetting. This is also pretty straight forward, it conveniently means what you want, carries the weight you want it to carry, and is the way the Romans would have done it.

The last word is trickier. The Romans were a famously martial society, and they have a good number of words relating to surrender, surrendering, the surrender, and that which is surrendered. Ignoring the non-verb words, and those which are overly complicated in meaning, here is a short list of "surrender" words:
Succumbere - to succumb (obviously,) to surrender [as to the inevitable]
Tradere - to hand over, to surrender [someone or thing]
Exposcere - to demand the surrender [of someone]
Dedere - to give up, or surrender [especially of the conquered]

The fourth one also leads to its noun form, which means "unconditional surrender or capitulation," so I think that is the one you want.

Now I'm going to put these into English word order, and give you both the singular of "be unwilling" and the plural:

Nolite Discere Nolite Dedere [lit. Be unwilling (addressing a group) to unlearn, be unwilling to give up]
Nole Discere Nole Dedere [lit. Be unwilling (individual) to unlearn, be unwilling to give up]

Please be aware that the comma did not exist during the reign of Rome, so to include any punctuation between the letters will look silly.

I'll mention again that this is English word order. The Romans would not have repeated the "don't" part like that. They probably would have said it more like "Be unwilling to either unlearn or to give up," and whilst Roman word order was nothing if not flexible, they did tend to prefer the main verb in the ultimate position: Aut Discere Aut Dedere Nole (Nolite for plural)

No matter what you do, if you do it in Latin, remember to do it in all caps. They invented cruise control for cool.

Also, you might want to rethink your mildly belligerent response to the commenters here. I don't think anyone's being "pretentious"—we just want you to get a tattoo you'll be happy with.

posted by paisley henosis at 8:58 AM on November 11, 2008

That was a long one. Wonder how long that took to type up, jeeze.
posted by paisley henosis at 9:17 AM on November 11, 2008

My belittling "pretentious" went to the folks who made it seem as though I was being a fratboy looking for some coolkid Kanji trampstamp instead of something I've thought about for a long time, but I appreciate folks wanting me to appreciate my ink.

I brought this question to MeFi because I knew someone like paisley henosis would have a kickass background and be able to do as good a job as anyone anywhere, which I believe he/she has. Thanks!

And @ paisley henosis---I was getting hung up on "surrender" too. The closest I had been able to come was "despair", which while it would have worked it wasn't what I was looking for.

posted by TomMelee at 11:00 AM on November 11, 2008

I hope you haven't gotten the tattoo yet, because even if one accepts the translation of 'forget' as dediscere, paisley henosis goes on to mistype it, three times, as discere, which means exactly the opposite. And the usual Latin equivalent of 'forget' is not dediscere but oblivisci. It's great that you think paisley henosis has a kickass background, but it's simply not true that he or she can "do as good a job as anyone anywhere," not having used it regularly in around 6 years. If you want a really good translation, you need to approach someone who does Latin for a living. Call up a local college and see if there's a classics professor who's willing to help.

Or just go with what you have, if that's how you roll. But if it's important to you to get it right, you need to go to a little more trouble than just asking MeFi and taking the first plausible-sounding answer you get. (Again, no offense to paisley henosis, who clearly has deeper and more recent exposure to Latin than I do. But neither of us is the expert you need.)
posted by languagehat at 3:14 PM on November 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh wow, that is a wildly bad typo on my part. Once again, I agree with everything the good hat of languages has said, excepting the dedisco/oblivio switch, I find the former to fit better into 'pithy motto' format.
posted by paisley henosis at 3:48 PM on November 11, 2008

Yeah, oblivisci is a verb, and no part of it is "oblivio." I know, I know.

My mouth tastes like socks.
posted by paisley henosis at 3:58 PM on November 11, 2008

Am I the only one who thinks it is hilariously ironic how this thread turned out?

OP, I don't know if you heed omens... but this is a BIGGIE if I ever saw one.

I am getting a text tattoo this summer, once I get back home to the city where my tattoo artist lives - and it will most definitely be in English. Text and language is just too complex. Much more so than a picture, and too much for me to trust another person with it. There is so much more to language than simple dictionary definitions. I'd want to know every nuance and connotation, and every reference or allusion associated with it. I'd want to know its tone, its proper pronunciation. I'd want to know deep in my heart exactly what it means.

Foreign language tattoos are not like picture tattoos, which are often completely open to interpretation and explanation - with a foreign language tattoo, there will always be someone else who will understand exactly what it means at a glance, and understand far better than you do. And it will be impossible to say, "Whatever, it means X to ME," without coming off as ignorant and arrogant. And you'll feel stupid too, no matter how much you tell yourself that you don't care what other people think... because this isn't a matter what other people are thinking, it's what they know.

Letting another person tell you what it means will never be the same. Regurgitating what another person told you will never be the same. Your connection with your tattoo will forever be superficial. It will be like reading about living in a foreign country in a book versus actually having lived there. Then one day you'll meet someone who has actually lived there, and you'll try to tell them what it's like to live there. And they'll shake their head and you'll feel like an imposter.

Living in a language is not so different than living in a place. With both, you have to fully immerse yourself for years before you can even begin to understand. With both, unless you began as a young child, you'll probably never truly understand. I find that people who have never lived in a foreign country, or who are not fully bilingual, have a lot of trouble comprehending just how profoundly difficult it really is.

If you really must get your tattoo in a different language, I'd follow languagehat's advice. You do seem genuinely invested in making sure your tattoo is authentic, so get off Mefi and do your homework. All you're going to get on here is self-proclaimed experts. No matter what credentials they list, at the end of the day they'll still merely be self-proclaimed. You need confirmed, guaranteed expertise, and I really like languagehat's suggestion of going to a college or university and speaking to a professor or two. Chances are good that the guy sitting behind the desk of the "Head of X Language Department" is not the janitor.
posted by keep it under cover at 11:42 PM on February 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

« Older Is that Ecclesiastes/Baudrillard quote accurate?   |   Looking for ultra short films Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.