I’ve been thinking some about Ariana Grande’s misadventures with tattoos and the Japanese language, and having learned a little more about the precise mistake she made, I have a little more to say, for what it’s worth.

The Japanese approach to language is maddening in some ways. Its compound words, or jyukugo, are not very intuitive, and figuring out the correct pronunciation from just the kanji is just an educated guess at best. Because they basically bolted the Chinese writing system onto the Japanese language, you have several different pronunciations and meanings for the same kanji, and good luck trying to figure out which are which.

That is not what Miss Grande ran afoul of, though. She ran afoul of the Japanese tendency to take common words and give them a colloquial meaning that no one could possibly guess unless they were already familiar with the culture.

Yes, 七輪 does indeed mean “seven rings”, if taken literally. But the problem is that that’s not how the Japanese use the word.

And if you know nothing about Japanese, you don’t know enough about the language to know that a word can mean something very diferent than its dictionary meaning.

This is the true danger of trying to use something from another culture because you think it’s “cool”. It’s cool right up until you figure out that you didn’t know what you didn’t know.

Honestly, I didn’t know that there was a whole story behind “shichirin” either. It’s news to me. The difference is that I know enough about Japanese to not plug random words into google translate and expect it to come out in anything remotely resembling anything of use except as a very general start to translation.

Japanese is a language you simply can’t mess about with. There are far too many landmines with regard to colloquialisms, politeness conjugations, word meanings, etc., to think that you can treat it glibly. Its a shame that miss Grande had to learn that lesson so publically and permanently, but t should be a lesson to the rest of us, particularly those who haven’t learned enough about Japanese to understand how much they don’t know.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s a fun and challenging language to learn. But you have to treat it with respect. Not because of any kind of PC nonsense, but in the same way a firearm demands respect. Treat it glibly and someone could get hurt.

Practice safe Japanese, folks.

Ariana Grande’s BBQ Grill has Seven Rings

I’m sure, by now, if you pay attention to anything Japanese or related, you’ve found that a major US pop star with lots of beauty and very little talent has decided to get a tattoo with Japanese kanji.

It is supposed to say “seven rings”, which I assume is the title of either a movie or a song she darkened the door of, but instead, apparently, it says “BBQ grill”.

Even though Ariana Grande and I have little in common – she’s a beautiul young talentless star, I’m a balding middle-aged guy with more talent in my little finger – I understand why one would want to get a tattoo in kanji. It’s got that foreign exoticism to it, kind of a hidden meaning that only you and a few billion other people in the world might understand, and the logographs are actually rather pretty in many cases. So I understand the temptation.

But, seriously. If you don’t know Japanese, don’t.

Let’s set aside the issue of trivializing a beautiul and ancient language to make a fashion statement and focus on the fact that one is making a permanent or semi-permanent alteration to one’s body without fully understanding what the heck they’re actually drawing on.

Google translate is not a substitute for knowing Japanese.

Running it by a native speaker is only marginally more a subtitute for knowing Japanese.

Learning enough Japanese that you can be confident that a kanji or jyokugo means exactly what you think it does is the only way to be sure that what’s going on your body is what you expect is going on your body.

Plus if you learn Japanese, it gives you much more of a right, in my opinion anyway, to use the kanji in ways it was not intended. It’s much less disrespectful to a culture to first learn, understand, and appreciate the culture. After which, of course, you can go ahead and use the kanji as you will, secure in the knowledge that you’re neither embarrassing yourself or disrespecting a proud, ancient culture by being stupid and thoughtless.

Learn Japanese, miss Grande. Or at the least make some Japanese friends. Surely either of things are a better use of your time than whatever you do that makes you think it’s a good idea to look up “7 rings” on google translate and take that to a tattoo artist that doesn’t know any better either.

Our Japanese friends deserve just a bit more respect from you than that, don’t you think?