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Aramaic Tattoo Translations 101

Updated on January 17, 2010

How Do I Know If My Aramaic Tattoo Is Accurate?

Did you hear the one about the American tourist in China who got a tattoo saying "Princess" commemorating her trip? Everyone loved the tattoo, and she was very popular in bars. It was only when she got home that a bilingual friend was kind enough to let her in on the secret of her popularity: literally translated her tattoo meant "Emperor's Prostitute."

Bad foreign language tattoo tales have reached urban legend status, and for good reason: cliches are cliches because they really do happen that often! Watch the Aramaic Blog below for a veritable revolving door of disfiguring, embarrassing, and plain incomprehensible tattoos supposedly in this historic language and stay tuned for the pointers you need to get an accurate translation for you!

'wnly gwd qn g"wdg m, 'wnly gwd kn g"wdg m (try saying it out loud a few times)
'wnly gwd qn g"wdg m, 'wnly gwd kn g"wdg m (try saying it out loud a few times)

How NOT To Get An Accurate Translation

It never seems to be the Aramaic scholars that up and decide to get a tattoo in Aramaic, so here are some common sense (and sometimes not so common sense) guidelines to follow in your search:

1. Installing an Aramaic keyboard on your computer and typing out your English phrase on it will no more produce an Aramaic document than spelling out the latest English pop song in kanji will create a Japanese haiku.

2. Exercise caution when using a dictionary by using it only if you're looking for a single word which happens to be in the same dialect and script as your dictionary, and only if the dictionary happens to have it in the same gender and form (singular, plural, etc.) that you are looking for.

3. Don't get a translation from an anonymous individual whose credentials, experience, or expertise are unverifiable, even if they offer the translation for free or have a flashy site. Yes, the translation might be free, but if it's wrong, the removal won't be.

4. Don't copy any old Aramaic you see online, or even another person's tattoo. As a review of the Aramaic Blog will show you: people regularly tattoo even obvious mistakes onto their bodies, even the rich and famous.

5. If you're looking for a Bible verse and are happy with Syriac Aramaic, then you could do worse than copying it out of the Peshitta (Aramaic New Testament). Just watch the verse citations and make certain that your edition is NOT an in-line annotated one. If you want only a part of a verse or a verse modified in any way (such as gender), you'll want a translator.

Learning Aramaic YouTube Video

Know Thy Translator

Here are the commandments when it comes to translators. They apply whether your proposed translator is paid or volunteer, professional or amateur. None of these should be anything less than obvious, we are talking about a permanent alteration to your body!

1. Do not accept total anonymity from your translator. How can you verify anything that they say if you don't know either them or the company backing them? What is your recourse if an anonymous translator sold you a false translation, you got it inked, and they melted away into the night?

2. Ask for their credentials, background, and experience. Don't simply accept "native speaker."

3. What dialects of Aramaic do they know, and how?

4. How long a translator has been in business gives you some idea of how reliable they are. In a trust based industry, a translator that burns a few people will get raked over the internet coals and have good motivation to disappear.

Don't Get Shortchanged

While you're looking for your tattoo translation image, it can be easy to lose track of the greater picture. When all is said and done: can you pronounce the translation that's on your body? It would be pretty silly to invest so much and not even know the nuances of what it means, either, and yet most translators offer just that: here's your graphic, have a nice life. They're not mean or greedy, they're just busy. Speak up for yourself! Ask upfront that they include a guide both to how to say the phrase you received, but to the fully elaborated meaning of the words that they chose. Almost all will be happy to oblige, a handful might charge more, but be very wary of any that refuse. Why on earth would a translator not be willing to do something so trivial, even for extra money, unless they don't actually know the language?

A Stock Lord's Prayer Spiral Tattoo Kit at Aramaic Designs
A Stock Lord's Prayer Spiral Tattoo Kit at Aramaic Designs

An Obvious Note On Stock Aramaic Translations And Designs

Now and then, you can find great deals on Aramaic translations in the form of samplers, eBooks, and portfolios that give you a set of translations and sometimes art at once. These can be wonderful IF the following conditions are met:

1. A bunch of translations at a cheap price is a loss rather than a savings if the translations are not accurate. We're still talking about your skin, so all the rules about knowing the translator apply. Don't bother with an anonymous seller. Who even knows if they were the translator or if they looked it up in a dictionary? Even if you know the seller, make sure that they were the ones that did the translations and check their qualifications.

2. A lot of translations are still not a good deal if they don't contain a single translation that you want. Remember to look through the contents before buying. If the contents aren't published, rethink buying that product.

3. Always take the time to thoroughly review a sample to see whether the quality is good enough for a tattoo artist to work from. Check if the lines are thick enough and spaced out enough not to blur into illegibility in a few years.

Get A (Free) Second Opinion

Plus Other Second Opinion Options

When all is said and done, take a minute and improve your odds by getting a second opinion on the translation you've received BEFORE you get it indelibly carved into your biceps. Aramaic Designs has offered free tattoo translation verifications (sm) for the entire time they've been in business, and double-checking your translation with them does every other translation seeker a good turn as Aramaic Designs keeps tabs on all the translations and translators they've reviewed, exposing the bad guys and keeping the good ones honest.

To get your free verification, send them an email at aramaicdesigns@gmail.com with the following information:

* The translation you received.

* The English words or phrases you had asked for.

* The script, dialect, and relevant grammatical information you had requested.

* The identifying information of your translator (ie website or internet moniker).

In addition to Aramaic Designs' service, you can sometimes find Rabbis, Syriac Orthodox priests, or professors willing to review your translation but keep in mind that they may not be familiar with the dialect you were looking for and could give you a false negative on your translation. Avoid this by simply double-checking with them what dialects they specialize in and asking for checks only from experts who are familiar with the one you asked for.

There are also paid services online, but keep in mind that you may not want to throw good money at an anonymous expert, even for a double check.

Aramaic Tattoo Resources

Where to find accurate translations, reliable tattoo artists, and all things Aramaic tattoo related.

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