You may have heard about Engrish.com, the site that tracks amusing abuses of the English language in Japan (“Let’s happy and feel the lucky!”). But what about the view from the other side? Are Americans abusing Asian languages by any chance? Yes they are, and whereas Japanese have a knack for zany T-shirts and signs, Americans prefer to make their mistakes in the form of permanent tattoos. Tian Tang, an engineering student who lives in Arizona now but was born in China, has a site called Hanzi Smatter that is dedicated to airing the kinds of mistranslations, mistransliterations, and textual nonsense that pass for Chinese in American pop culture. Recently he’s been getting some high-profile press:
There has been such an enthusiastic response to my entry last summer on Elvish writing (i.e. The Return of the King just came out) that I am opening a side business in Elvish calligraphy. There is brisk business to be done in Elvish tattoos these days. If you want something written in Elvish, whether for a tattoo or not, take a look at my Elvish Writing page.
I was a serious Tolkien geek as a boy. Around sixth grade I taught myself the Elvish writing that Tolkien invented for the Lord of the Rings. In fact, he created both a language and a character set; these characters, you may recall, decorate the One Ring.
If you don’t mess with the actual Elvish language, you can just use the beautiful characters to spell out English words. It’s not that hard, but there are a few tricky bits to work out, so if you’re a sixth grade Tolkien geek you can feel pretty darn self-satisfied. It’s also turned out to be a useful life skill to have a private code in which to take notes. I never forgot my Elvish writing skills (that’s my name to the left) and still use them to this day. My graduate school notebooks, for example, were littered with sloppily lettered Elvish declarations like “I am so sleepy,” and “please let this class end soon.” Top secret stuff like that. Also, chicks dig it when you write their name in Elvish.
Given all this, I was pleased to see that someone has gone to the trouble of making an Elvish font called Tengwar. Now if you’re itching to write your own powerful ring inscriptions, you know where to start.