Need foreign idioms about love
February 12, 2008 5:29 PM   Subscribe

Thinking about my newest tattoo idea, it's been brewing for I need the help of strangers. I have most of the elements fleshed out, but I'm looking for a saying about love, preferably in a foreign language, to incorporate. Nothing too long, it has to fit on a banner on my forearm. Idioms are best, or something that is a little more obtuse than "forever love."

My left forearm has La Catrina skeleton wrapped in a banner with the text, "J'ai des papillons noir tous les jours," which I found in a book totally by accident. I'm hoping the same kind of thing will happen with this.

The new tattoo will be a male skeleton, in the Posada style, with a trumpet representing my husband.
posted by hulahulagirl to Writing & Language (31 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Any foreign language in particular?
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:45 PM on February 12, 2008

"Frango Ut Patefacium".
"I break (through) in order to reveal."
posted by Dizzy at 5:49 PM on February 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

Omnia Vincit Amor.
posted by santojulieta at 5:52 PM on February 12, 2008

Here's some from German

Liebe ist der Liebe Preis - "Love is the price of love"

bis zum Wahnsinn lieben - "To love unto madness"

Die Liebe ist der Endzweck der Weltgeschichte - das Amen des Universums - "Love is the end goal of world history - the Amen of the universe"

and the quintessentially (if stereotypically) German,

Die Liebe ist der Zahnschmerz der Seele - "Love is the toothache of the soul"

Of those, I like best the idea of shortening the third quote to "Die Liebe ist das Amen des Universums" (i.e., Love is the Amen of the Universe).
posted by jedicus at 5:58 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

It should be "J'ai des papillons noirs tous les jours" – the adjective noirs has to agree with the plural noun papillons.
posted by zadcat at 6:11 PM on February 12, 2008

In italiano:

l'amore si sbiad ma i tatuaggi non

"love fades, but tattoos do not."
posted by teirnon at 6:35 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Amor ordinem nescit
Latin - Love does not know order. (St. Jerome)
posted by Toekneesan at 6:43 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all of the great suggestions so far. Please do include the English translation (or approximate meaning). Any language, I think, will work. Keep 'em comin'!
posted by hulahulagirl at 6:48 PM on February 12, 2008

zadcat: my bad, the actual tattoo does have an "s" on "noir"
posted by hulahulagirl at 6:48 PM on February 12, 2008

Die Liebe ist der Zahnschmerz der Seele - "Love is the toothache of the soul" and Love is the Amen of the Universe are great!! thanks jedicus
posted by hulahulagirl at 6:50 PM on February 12, 2008

"love is a four letter word"
I only have the literal translation from babel-fish
"l'amour est un mot de quatre lettres"
I'm sure there is a better way to say it.
posted by robotot at 6:59 PM on February 12, 2008

Robotot, I don't think "four letter word" has the same implication in French as it does in English.
posted by explosion at 7:02 PM on February 12, 2008

Speaking of four letter words, I was in a coffee shop late one night getting some caffeine for the two hour trip home and I noticed the guy in line ahead of me had the tetragrammaton tattooed on the back of his neck (not something you see every day). I asked him about it, as he was pouring cream in his coffee and he said "The WHAT? What is it?" I explained, and he got this funny look on his face and said he always wondered what it was. He woke up from a drunk with it there and has no idea how he got it. Would love to know the whole story behind that one.

Son: "Hi mum. Hi dad. There's a dead bishop on the landing."
Mum: "What diocese?"
Son: "How should I know?"
Mum: "It's tattooed on the back of their neck!"

posted by spock at 7:06 PM on February 12, 2008 [4 favorites]

spock that's the strangest story I've ever heard.

Speaking of hebrew:

אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי

or without vowels

אני לדודי ודודי לי

is from Song of Songs, meaning "I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me." It seems to be a common tattoo wish. I think I remember it coming up in a similar AskMe, but I can't find it.
posted by callmejay at 7:38 PM on February 12, 2008

Yeah, if you're going to do it, make sure it's a real translation and not Babelfish gone mad. The Italian translation it gives for "love fades..." is just plain wrong.
posted by katemonster at 7:41 PM on February 12, 2008

I nominate "El amor es una droga dura" (Love is a hard drug), which is the title of a novel by Cristina Peri Rossi. Or maybe "El amor es tan importante como la comida. Pero no alimenta," by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Love is as important as food. But it doesn't nourish.) Those are both kind of downers, though. Since there will be a trumpet in your tattoo design, perhaps you could find a good quote in Spanish about love and music if you want something a bit happier.
posted by homelystar at 8:08 PM on February 12, 2008

Sappho fragment 130 is great, either the whole thing or just the 2nd line:

(apologies to non unicoders!)

Ἕρος δηὖτε μ᾽ ὀ λυσιμέλης δόνει
γλυκύπικρον ἀμάχανον ὄρπετον"

"Love rouses me once again,
a bittersweet, impossible creature."

Plus a tattoo written with the Greek would look sooooo much cooler than one in the boring Latin alphabet.
posted by Hello, Revelers! I am Captain Lavender! at 8:44 PM on February 12, 2008

Curious: why do you want a tattoo in a foreign language?
posted by davidmsc at 9:05 PM on February 12, 2008

Have you considered a tattoo in braille? (well, the braille dots, anyway- making them raised would be a bit tricky)... "Love is blind!"

I always wanted a braille-font tattoo.
posted by indienial at 9:46 PM on February 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

一視同仁 (いっしどうじん) (n) loving every human being with impartiality; universal brotherhood; universal benevolence;
愛別離苦 (あいべつりく) (n) the pain of separation from loved ones;
外柔内剛 (がいじゅうないごう) (n) being gentle on the outside but tough on the inside; an iron hand in a velvet glove;
三角関係 (さんかくかんけい) (n) love triangle; eternal triangle;
相思相愛 (そうしそうあい) (n) deeply in love with each other; strongly attached to each other; mutual infatuation;
内剛外柔 (ないごうがいじゅう) (n) gentle on the outside but tough on the inside; an iron hand in a velvet glove;
落花流水 (らっかりゅうすい) (n) mutual love; the love one shows to another person being returned;

Another sorry for unicode impaired. There's a dictionary of 4 kanji Japanese idioms that will probably pass the "stupid tattoo that doesn't mean what I thought it did" test. Sorta like haiku, they're old and standard. Always double check so you don't get some idiotic thing on your arm forever...
posted by zengargoyle at 10:26 PM on February 12, 2008

Dizzy writes "'Frango Ut Patefacium'.
"'I break (through) in order to reveal.'"

Hey Dizzy, that's been my email quote since I saw it in Stephen Jay Gould's obit 4 years ago! Except that my local Latin master translates it as "I break so that I may reveal", because patefaciam is present subjunctive. It makes a good motto if your profession involves debugging.

Is this really about love? It's the motto of The Paleontological Society, and comes from the old scottish landlady character in a Sir Walter Scott story. She was scoffing at the gentlemen amateur scientists wandering around the highlands and breaking rocks open "To see what the world is made of!"
posted by Araucaria at 11:15 PM on February 12, 2008

Blaise Pascal:

Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît pas.

(The heart has its reasons which reason doesn't know)
posted by Rumple at 12:14 AM on February 13, 2008

Always double check so you don't get some idiotic thing on your arm forever...

In that spirit, I suggest that you give a pass to 三角関係(sankaku kankei), which may mean "eternal triangle" to some people, but to the majority of Japanese means "Ménage à trois."

If you absolutely have to get a kanji tattoo you might try 以心伝心 (ishin denshin, which means "communicating without language, through the heart"). But keep in mind that the western practice of writing kanji on one's body is perceived as very strange by the Chinese, Japanese and Koreans, who see them as words, rather than fancy and exotic pictures. You will provoke no small amount of perplexity when you visit these countries.
posted by Gordion Knott at 2:59 AM on February 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

"Love is a battlefield."

What's that? Its not in a foreign language? Sure it is, its in cougar-ese.
posted by ian1977 at 5:06 AM on February 13, 2008 [3 favorites]

Since you're fond of the German answers so far, I have to suggest the title of an awesomely cheesy song that I heard sometime in the early '90s:

Herz As ist trumpf! (The Ace of Hearts is trump.)
posted by kittyprecious at 7:11 AM on February 13, 2008

"Audentes Fortunas Juvat." Fortune favors the bold (or brave).

Not literally about love, but always seemed relevant to love, and what I've wanted to get tattooed on my arm (around a compass pointing true north) for a while. There's some minor variations in the latin spelling.

That said - "love is blind" in braille is a pretty impressive concept.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 7:21 AM on February 13, 2008

Curious: why do you want a tattoo in a foreign language?
posted by davidmsc

Well, mostly just that the tattoo on my other arm has a foreign language idiom. Going for a bit of symmetry.

Thank you everyone for these great answers.
posted by hulahulagirl at 8:18 AM on February 13, 2008

How about some Petrarch?

S'amor non è, che dunque é què i' sénto?
Ma s'ègli é amór, per Dio, che cósa, e quale?

If this should not be love, what is it then?
But if it is love, God, what can love be?

Translation: Anthony Mortimer

If you want something shorter you could go with an except of Sophocles' Antigone

Ἔρως ἀνίκατε μάχαν
or, capitalised,

Love (that) can't be fought against/ love (is) unconquerable.
posted by ersatz at 4:50 PM on February 13, 2008

Let us know what you eventually decide on! I want to see pics.
posted by indienial at 5:03 PM on February 13, 2008

Some Norwegian proverbs, can't think of a single idiom *sigh*, here (all translations are literal):

Gammel kjærlighet ruster ikke
Old love doesn't rust

Gammel kjærlighet og gamle branner blusser lett opp igjen
Old love and old fires re-ignite easily

Kjærlighet gjør blind
Love makes blind

Kjærligheten skjuler mangt et lyte
Love hides many flaws

Kjærleiken løyner lyter (This one is in nynorsk aka New Norwegian)
Love hides flaws

Kor klok ein er, han kan verta dåra når kjærleik kjem og maktstel (from Håvamål)
No matter how wise one is, he can become a fool when love comes and paralyses (steals power)

And a quote:
Husk at all skjønnhet på jord bor i de evige ord: Jeg elsker deg (Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson)
Remember all beauty on earth lives in the eternal words: I love you
posted by esilenna at 9:21 AM on February 17, 2008

Were this my tattoo and were i choosing from the items in this thread, "bis zum Wahnsinn lieben" ("To love unto madness") would be the hands-down winner. I love the sentiment, and I think it would look very cool in German. (a z, a W, and an nn!)

I also agree with not trusting babelfish. Before heading to Mexico, I used it to look up the phrase "I am allergic to nuts." It returned a sentence that meant "I am allergic to (machine) nuts." I was so glad I double-checked that and learned the word for (tree) nuts before I got on the plane.
posted by Cranialtorque at 10:04 PM on July 9, 2008

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