Friday, 16 January 2015

Umm... Lil Wayne just f*cked up his Arabic tattoo

If you are thinking about getting a permanent tattoo in a foreign language, especially on your face- it might be a good idea to avoid Google Translate. It wasn't as if US rapper Lil Wayne doesn't have the means to consult one of the 300 million Arabic speakers on the planet. 

Nonetheless, the hip-hop star revealed shortly before Christmas his new eye tattoo, explaining he wanted 'Momma's boy' in Arabic above his left brow. It came out like this:

and up close

It was evidently a Google Translate job, and so means "the son of my mother". Though it makes grammatical sense, this is an example of where the connotative meaning of a phrase is completely different from its denotative, or literal meaning. An English speaker understands that the semantic import of the phrase 'momma's boy' implies a grown man who is overly attached to his mother, and/ or who is spoilt by her. 

Languages carry heavy layers of cultural meaning (part of their fun), and this why words and phrases that carry idiomatic meanings cannot be easily understood from their standard dictionary meanings. Hence the English phrase 'rat race' is not actually about rodents doing the 100 meters.

There is an Arabic expression in Egyptian colloquial Arabic meaning 'momma's boy'- حيلة امه which carries the idea of someone who is molly-coddled by their mother.

But I've seen worse, including a guy who had ويل tattooed on his chest. I'll take it his name was Will, but he wasn't to know that it means 'grief' or 'woe', and is going to be understood as such by native Arabic speakers. I've even seen a girl who attempted to tattoo 'Sophie' on herself, and as you'd expect it came out as صوفي, which of course means Sufi.

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