I really enjoy body art. See my post here about asking others about their tattoos. However, though I love tasteful or even creative tattoos, some tattoos can be embarrassingly ridiculous. One risky tattoo a person can get, is one in a language they can not read.
Having graduated from a Japanese university, I can read most of the Japanese and Chinese tattoos I see. When I served as a medical provider at the National Navy Medical Center in Washington D.C, I got to see a lot of sailors and marines who had returned from serving in the Pacific. While doing an exam on one such sailor, I was surprised to see a Japanese tattoo on his arm that looked like this:
I asked him, “Why did you get that tattoo?” and he proudly replied: “One night in Japan, I picked up this Japanese babe who helped me get this tattoo which says something like ‘Brave and Strong'”.
But actually, the katakana letters on his forearm read “sukebe”, which actually means “pervert” or “lecher”. I didn’t tell him the real meaning, but maybe I should have. What do you think? Would you have told him?
As an interesting linguist side note: When I was a kid, my dad used the word “skivvies” for “underwear”. My father served in the Navy during WWII and it is apparently navy slang. Some sources claim this nautical term came into English in the late 1800s from the word “sukebe” which American and British soldiers heard as a humorous taunt when they sauntered through prostitute districts during their shore time in Japan. These sailors then mispronounced the word when they brought it into English calling it “skibby” which came to mean “a woman of ill repute” or “a low-class woman”. In the 1930s the word “sukebe” also became “skivvies” — Navy slang for underwear due to similar associations.