This is a follow-up to this post regarding Vicki's tattoo:
Vicki was under the impression that this meant "the Path to Enlightenment". She also told me that the tattoo meant nothing to her and that she was considering having it removed.
If she reads this post, her feelings may become even stronger.
I hesitated before posting this, but because she was so down on this piece, I figured, if anything, I'd be doing her a favor.
This Chinese characters do not reflect what she understands the tattoo to mean. From the top down, the first element is the triad of dashes on the upper right. These three strokes represent the number three. The large character at the top of the tattoo caused some consternation among my co-workers who are fluent in Chinese that I showed this to. One couldn't identify it at all and the other said that it most closely resembles the kanji meaning "look" or "see".
The bottom character was easily identified by those I showed the picture to.
The character on the right in the illustration above matches the bottom character in the tattoo. It is the character for "cow". I am now theorizing that the top character is a distortion of the word "year" and that Vicki's tattoo represents the astrological year of the cow, or the ox, denoting people born in 1997, 1985, 1973, 1961, 1949, 1937, 1925, 1913, or 1901. Although she mentioned she was 27, which would have put her birthday in 1980. Hmmm.
The alternative, that it is just gibberish, "three look cow," is also a possibility. She did say that she found the kanji in a cartoon in a philosophy textbook.
Regardless, it certainly makes the tattoo more interesting. Vicki, if you wish me to remove this post, please e-mail me. I did not create this follow-up mean-spiritedly, but merely as a further exploration of your tattoo.
There's a whole site called Hanzi Smatter that analyzes "the misuse of Chinese characters in Western culture." They display some tattoo examples that illustrate that bad ink happens quite often, especially when tattooing using foreign words and characters.
My advice, when getting a tattoo of this nature, would be to go to at least two, if not three, opinions from independent, unrelated authorities of the language, before permanently inking a non-English piece. Hell, some people have a hard time with English! Check out this story from earlier this year in Chicago. Or this story from 6 years ago.