When Arabic Tattoos Go Bad (or why you should talk to a translator first)

I have tattoos. I’m quite proud of them. I’m a big fan of tattoo culture, and I think more people should be as well. But today, as I was so innocently minding my own business, I came across something that firmly reminded me that some people just should not get tattoos.


bad arabic tattoo

Before I go further into what will be an awesome rant, let me preface this by saying that Chinese and Japanese are not the only languages that suffer from people’s tattoo-related abuse. Many people choose to have ridiculous things tattooed on their body because it looks pretty or because they think there’s some sagely meaning behind the words.

What you see above is a man’s arm with what he thinks is the Arabic for “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” What actually is on his arm is “Mem-Alif Lam-Alif Ya-Wa-Ta-Lam-Kalf Ya-jim-Ayn-Lam-Kaf Alif-Qaf-Wa-Ya,” or, for the ease of people who aren’t familiar with Arabic script, gibberish.

You see, Arabic is written in a script that connects. It works like cursive. What is written on that man’s arm is not words—it’s just letters. In actual Arabic, the phrase would look like this:

ما  لا يقتلك يجعلك أقوى

See the difference?

Even if the letters were properly connected in order to form words, this would still not be the world’s most fantastic tattoo as the font used is the computer-basic font for Arabic. It would be like getting an English tattoo in Times New Roman rather than in a unique or interesting font. Most non-Arabic speakers tend to get tattoos in this basic font because there is a general lack of knowledge about the beauty and versatility of Arabic script.

Now, there is nothing wrong with getting a tattoo done in Arabic (or Chinese, or Japanese, or any other language), even if you don’t speak or study the language. Arabic tattoos can be really stunning. They are absolutely gorgeous when they’re done correctly. It’s going to be on your body for forever. That’s a really long time. You should at least be able to be proud of it.

But please, please, please, if you do want a tattoo in a foreign language, verify that what you’re getting is correct! Consult a translator. I promise, you’ll be thankful you did.

Otherwise, this could happen to you:

picture taken from post on Tumblr
picture taken from post on Tumblr. OP claims it means “appreciate life.”

I don’t know who told this person that’s what that tattoo meant. It actually means, “I’m disgusting.”

For some samples of some gorgeous Arabic tattoos, check out http://www.arabiccalligrapher.com/tattoos. Josh Berer is a calligrapher who designs absolutely breath-taking tattoos in Arabic. He’s also a translator, so you know you’re getting the real deal from him.

9 thoughts on “When Arabic Tattoos Go Bad (or why you should talk to a translator first)

  1. I was interested in getting a tattoo in Arabic but I also didn’t want to look like a fool and trust google translator. That’s how I stumbled upon your post. Do you think you can translate “The wolf that wins is the wolf you feed”

    1. Hi
      i can translate it for you if you want, i am Arabic

      الذِئبْ الذي يَفْوز هوَ الذِئْبُ الذي تطعمه
      The wolf that wins is the wolf you feed

  2. Hello, I wanted to get a tattoo in Arabic that says “Imperfection is Beauty ” but all of the translations I’ve seen are wrong. Can you please translate it for me. Thanks!

  3. I’m trying to get the word cock ( year of the rooster) in arabic but really uncertain if i got it right? I keep gettingالديك but im unsure if it says cock or rooster.. Help plz

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