A pet peeve of mine is Chinese character tattoos. These are often translations of some sentiment the victim wishes to express in code, but have been translated in a way that probably won’t make sense to a native speaker of Chinese or Japanese. In other cases, they are unidiomatic or just plain wrong.
Take a gander at the two kanji above. The one on the left, å’Œ, is the character for “peace,” popular as a tattoo, on T-shirts, decorative rocks, etc. The one on the right looks exactly the same, but for one crucial stroke. In fact, it is not an actual character at all (near as I can tell), though my first guess was that it means “apricot” (I was close: æ). It is the one on the right that I saw tattooed on the small of a woman’s back on Sunday.
What’s the correct etiquette in this situation? Should I tell her “Hey, I know you wanted the character for ‘peace’ tattooed on your back, but you wound up with something that sorta looks like ‘apricot'”? Or should I leave her in blissful ignorance, as an inside joke for those of us who know the code?
Apparently other people are writing about this problem too.