Tag Archives: tattoo

Aramaic Tattoo Critique – Actually, not too shabby. :-)

A potential customer brought this tattoo to my attention. Overall it’s not too bad. It’s completely legible and all in the right order (bravo!). There are — however — a few things that need to be addressed:
  1. Half of the small number of things that rub me the wrong way is the inconsistent use of diacritical marks. There is only one seyame (plural marker; the two little dots above a short letter) in the entire design, and when you use seyame in one place, it’s customary to use it throughout the document.
  2. Another stray diacritical mark is a dot under the ܟ (kaf) in ܡܠܟܘܬܟ (malkuthakh = “your kingdom”). Here, this mark’s purpose is to indicate that the ܟ (kaf) is pronounced soft (like ch in Bach). Again, if you use it in one place, you’re expected to use it throughout the document unless it is specifically to disambiguate places where it’s not obvious. (Which this is not.)
  3. Next, we have another stray dot under ܡܢ (men = “from”) as well as a final ܡ (mim) at the beginning of a word. A dot could occur here in un-marked texts to disambiguate ܡܢ (men) from ܡܢ (man = “who”), but again, it’s inconsistent and unnecessary in this context.
  4. Finally, there is a case of incorrect word division, which given its position (a descender right above an ascender, which could potentially overlap) is excusable, but there are other ways to resolve overlapping writing than this.
However, these errors aside, this is one of the better Syriac Lord’s Prayer spirals that I have seen that I did not aid in typesetting (and I know that sounds like I’m tooting my own horn… but seriously it personally pains me when I see avoidable mistakes). 🙂

The My-Aramaic-Tattoo.com Aramaic Tattoo eBook – Mistakes Exposed

Before I begin: I am using snippets of content from this document to illustrate problems found both in adherence to and under the protection of Fair Use Doctrine and the First Amendment in ways that have precedent in American law. In doing so I shall take steps to ensure that the content owner’s copyrights are respected and that the heart of their work is protected.


This is a review of the Aramaic Tattoo eBook as found on My-Aramaic-Tattoo.com.

Since I posted my first review, I was sent a lengthy Cease and Desist that I pull my blog posts down for a variety of reasons. Within my rights I have made the decision to write this more concise and to-the-point article instead, which bespeaks the problem in more articulate and succinct language, so that my full meaning can be understood.

I will go over each point about the eBook, fact by fact to expound upon my good-faith opinion that it is not a good buy in its current form because it contains errors and lacks important information that, as a result, would not allow a consumer to make an informed decision.

Without further ado, let’s take a look:

At a Glance

For $29.00 over at My Aramaic Tattoo.com, one can obtain a copy of the “My Aramaic Tattoo eBook” which on its website is advertised as the most extensive and unique collection of Aramaic tattoo designs available” filled with popular and unique Aramaic tattoo words and phrases.”

Looking about the Internet for more information about it, I found a few advertisements. On EzineArticles.com it was also claimed that “The inspirational Aramaic tattoo design eBook was written and designed to help people avoid carrying mistakes on their bodies for the rest of their lives.”

On PeopleStillRead.com, BalmelPublishing.com and ArticlesBase.com it was claimed that: “we hope that many will use and enjoy this eBook, and will be able to walk proudly with accurate and correct Aramaic tattoo designs.”

After some serious friction with the book’s author, who would not provide their credentials or evidence of their expertise, I eventually purchased a copy in order to examine exactly what they were selling.

Leafing through the PDF I took an initial count of its contents:

It was 70 pages in length.

It had 39 individual words. (labeled: “faith,” “beloved” (m), “beloved” (f), “forever,” “soul,” “love,” “truth,” “health,” “friendship,” “joy,” “freedom,” “peace,” “hope,” “Jesus,” “Christ,” “flame,” “dream,” “life,” “gem,” “light,” “strength,” “paradise,” “holiness,” “dance,” “beauty,” “heaven,” “lion,” “lioness,” “dawn/twilight,” “sunrise,” “star,” “resurrection,” “truth,” “grace/goodness,” “music,” “father,” “mother,” “son,” “daughter”)

It contained 16 Bible verses:

  • 5 Old Testament. (Josh 1:5, Psa 23:6, Psa 108:5, 119:105, Prov 3:17)
  • 11 New Testament. (Mat 19:19, John 1:1, 11:35, 19:28, Rom 3:23, 1Cor 13:8, 13:13, 2Cor 12:9, Eph 2:8, Philp 4:13, Rev 1:8)

The introduction to the book, in a disclaimer, outlined that it contained “Aramaic Words, Aramaic Phrases,” and “Aramaic Verses” in three different scripts: Paleo-Hebrew, Square (“Hebrew”) script and Syriac.

In reference to how the scripts are used, it claims that “different Aramaic dialects are used, without adherence to historical accuracy in the choice of script.”

It also mentioned that:

“The author and publisher specifically disclaim any responsibility for any liability, loss or risk, personal or otherwise, which in incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly of the use and application of any of the contents of this e-book. It is the buyer’s sole responsibility to verify that the translation meets his or her requirements.”

Which I personally found a little odd (more on that later); however, after getting past it, I took the time to let some initial observations sink in.

Initial Observations

Unlike what the introduction claimed, there were no “Aramaic phrases” (unless one argues “l’almin” or “forever” as a phrase, which then raises the count to 1). However, this may simply be advertising, or a display of intent for future revisions (which I hope is the case).

What really got me in the intro, however, was with all of the variation between Aramaic languages, saying “Different Aramaic dialects are used, without adherence to historical accuracy in the choice of script” would be like saying “Different Romance languages from Latin to Medieval French, Modern Italian and Catalan are used. It’s your job to figure out which one is which.”

Except that what makes up the mixture was not mentioned. There are hundreds of Aramaic dialects, most of which are mutually unintelligible.

I found this especially ironic because in the articles and advertisements pointing individuals to the eBook online extolled its accuracy, where the disclaimer immediately admits that it is not accurate to historical standards.

In my professional opinion, without any dialect information, this would leave an individual who is not familiar with the language with no context to go by to make an informed decision.

There were a large number of designs, from spirals, to tear drops, hearts, triangles, circles, and wavy lines and even a butterfly (which was kinda neat), every design (sans the Bible Verses, of course) simply repeated the same word. The repetition sometimes bridged on 10-12 times in varying sizes.

Where most of the text was preserved in vector, on every other page, some of the designs were saved as low-resolution images. While inspirational, they are simply not high-quality enough to take to a tattoo parlor for stenciling without some additional difficulty.

Some of the other designs, specifically the “circlets” and some of the spirals warp the text so much that if they were to be tattooed, within a few years they would likely be illegible, due to bleed (depending on the ink used and size of the tattoo).

Furthermore, some of the Syriac texts’ baselines aren’t lined up properly, so letters aren’t properly connected, leaving such corrections up to the judgment of the tattoo artist inking the design.

Finally (which is what I think is very important to note) there is no contact information anywhere in the document: No address, no phone number, no fax. The name of the translator is also missing. No sources were cited anywhere in the document either to help the customer figure out things like (for example) which dialects they were working with.

The Accuracy of the Content

Now, all of the technical observations aside, reading over all of the content and checking each unit off, I found the following pertaining to the accuracy of the actual Aramaic employed:

Out of the 39 words 18 of them (roughly half) had some problem or issue, outlined below. The following columns depict the word in question, which scripts it is (out of those that it was provided in) historically attested in, as well as any particular notes about the word, itself as it appeared in the Tattoo eBook:

Word Old Aramaic Script “Hebrew” Script Syriac Script Notes
“Love” not attested
attested* common In Old Aramaic and in most dialects written in Hebrew script, this could be confused for “sin” or “debt” as it is a homograph. Depending on context, a different inflection of the root chosen would have been more appropriate, or a proper, documented noun-form from the root rm instead.
“Truth” not attested rare common
“Health” not attested not attested common
“Joy” not attested not attested common The Lexicon Syriacum (2nd ed) defines this form primarily as “suavity, jocundity.” Ḥadutha would have been more appropriate for all scripts.
“Freedom” not attested not attested common This is a Syriac and Christian Palestinian Aramaic (“CPA”) spelling. All other dialects use a yod instead of alef.
“Flame” not attested not attested common This is another Syriac and CPA spelling and a specialized term. Nura or “Fire” would have worked better here for all scripts.
“Life” not attested rare rare This is a rare and unusual form for ‘life’. Ḥaye is best in Syriac, where ḥaya or ḥayyin is best for the other two.
“Gem” not attested rare common* This word generally means “pearl” not “gem.” (Lec. Syr.)
“Light” common* common* common In Old Aramaic and Hebrew Scripts it’s usually nhora.
“Paradise” not attested not attested rare
“Dance” not attested* not attested* common As a noun it is only attested in Syriac, but it is possible that this could appear in other forms.
“Beauty” not attested but certainly possible
common* common* Can be confused for “Shofar.” A less-ambiguous alternative could have been shapira/tha (“beautiful”) or perhaps even ziwa (“splendor / beauty”).
“Heaven” rare* common common In Old Aramaic, was much more common as shmayin.
“Dawn / Twilight” not attested not attested very rare A vastly more common form would be nogha for Old Aramaic and Hebrew and nugha for Syriac.
“Sunrise” not attested not attested common A Syriac form that means “shining” more than “sunrise.” Again nogha / nugha would have been a better choice.
“Resur-rection” not attested not attested common
“Grace / Goodness” common common common Simple typesetting error; the font for Old Aramaic is not rendered properly.
“Music” ? ? ? I could not find this noun form attested anywhere, although I could imagine it being used (zmara with -utha suffixed to denote an expanded domain, like the difference between malka “king” and malkutha “kingdom”); however, it would have been better to simply use zmara (“song”) which is very commonly attested.

The Bible verses from the Old Testament were taken from various Targums (Targum Johnathan, Targum Psalms, Targum Proverbs, etc.) and as such some of those verses contained features that would be inappropriate to render in Syriac Script.

The Bible verses from the New Testament were taken verbatim from the Syriac Peshitta, and as expected some of them contained features that would be inappropriate to render in Hebrew or Old Aramaic Script.

All in all, the actual text was copy and paste without error from their source documents (all of which are freely available on the Internet), so if one were to keep to Hebrew script for the Old Testament verses and Syriac Script for the New Testament verses, there would be little to no chance of error. This certainly does, however, reduce the number of “usable” scripts per verse.

Closing Thoughts

With everything said, my hopes in posting this article were twofold:

1) My primary goal is to ensure that individuals who have purchased this eBook do not tattoo upon them anything that is not what they expect. As my blog here has documented over the past 3-4 years, mistakes when it comes to Aramaic tattoos are rampant, and most of that, in my professional opinion, is due to individuals not researching well enough to understand the depth of the language.

2) At this point, I sincerely hope in all good faith that the owner of My-Aramaic-Tattoo.com takes this opportunity to edit their mistakes and make their product better and more suitable towards its intended purpose.

The issue of scripts and dialects with Aramaic is a very serious one as Aramaic is not one language, but a family of closely-related languages, many of which are mutually unintelligible.

Ty illystrate taipesettynȝ Aramaic cæracters in a script inæppropriate to ðeir diælect, I feil ðat a more lenȝÞi exæmple is in order. Hƿere boÞ ðe længuage I æm conveyng ðis pærægræf in ænd ðe script I æm ysyng are indispytabli Englisc, ƿuld ðis pæss æs æcceptable for publicascion in a neƿspaper? Perhaps if it ƿæs some commentæri æbout ænæcronism it ƿould be a fittynȝ art piese, but beond ðæt it is distinctli odd.

To illustrate typesetting Aramaic characters in a script inappropriate to their dialect, I feel that a more lengthy example is in order. Where both the language I am conveying this paragraph in and the script I am using are both indisputably English, would this pass as acceptable for publication in a newspaper? Perhaps if it was some commentary about anachronism it would be a fitting art piece, but beyond that it is distinctly odd.

If you were wondering what was going on, the above was Modern English, typeset in Old English letters and spelling. Writing Syriac in Old Aramaic or vice-versa would seem equally as odd.

Before obtaining a tattoo in any language in which you are not well versed, always double-check. With tattoos, it’s a matter of “measure twice, bleed once.”

Finally, if you aren’t sure about some Aramaic you’re thinking about tattooing on your body, email me first. I have been double-checking tattoo translations pro bono for years and am always willing to help.


Not Quite Wrong, Not Quite Right

(This portion of the original image used under Fair Use doctrine for critical and educational purposes.)

Hello Aramaic enthusiasts. 🙂

Today I came across the above tattoo on DeviantArt. The owner says that he put the calligraphy together himself and that it is the word “malek” which means “king.” If one takes a close look at it, he is (for its intended purpose) correct.

However, this tattoo is another excellent example of how ambiguities can crop up when certain aspects of the written language aren’t fully taken into account (which unfortunately by empirical observation happens more often than not). There are three of these observations I’d like to make:

1) Letter Scale

This tattoo is written in Syriac script, and one interesting quirk about Syriac script is that certain letters are disambiguated by the length and angle of their stems. In this case, the center letter which should be lamad (the Aramaic equivalent to “L”), is a bit ambiguous and caused me to pause the first time I glanced at it.

Lamad is usually disambiguated from ‘e (a sharp “UH” in the back of the throat) and nun (“N”) by it’s height and angle. This lamad, however, looks very much like how one would expect an ‘e to be written.

2) Diacritical Marks

When writing in Syriac, there are a number of diacritical marks that are used to indicate vowels, when different letters take on different sounds, as well as parts of speech in largely unmarked manuscripts. The dot that we find under what was intended to be a kaf (an Aramaic “K”) is distracting.

In a marked text, a dot under a kaf means that it changes its sound to something similar to the CH in “Bach” (like lightly clearing your throat). However, this convention is usually undertaken when all of the vowels are written (so we would expect to see marks over the mim and lamad for the “a” and “e” vowels).

So here comes the ambiguity: In Eastern Syriac vowel pointing, a dot under a small tick could represent a “long” yud (the Aramaic equivalent to “Y”, but when long like “ee” in “free”). This would break down the word so it would be pronounced “muh-EEK” (if the ‘e ambiguity persists) which in some dialects of Aramaic means “squeezed one” or the word “mah-LEEK” which is not a word at all. Either case, they’re not quite what the author was after.

3) Word Form
Finally, and this is more of a stylistic choice when getting a tattoo, but the Absolute form of the word was used where, in Syriac and modern Assyrian dialects, one would expect to see the Emphatic. The Emphatic form, is spelled a bit differently, with one additional letter and a different form for kaf (as now it is no longer at the end of the word).


Overall, this (when examined closely) does express what the author was after, albeit with a little effort. It is a form of the Aramaic word “king” provided one reads the middle letter correctly and is not confused by the stray diatric mark. However, it could have been a bit cleaner, and sending it by a professional to ensure its accuracy before committing to a tattoo would have caught these ambiguities.


An Ambiguous Tattoo: Modern vs. Classical

In my usual searches across the Internet for Aramaic tattoo oddities, I came across the following tattoo that illustrates an very important point about how different some dialects can be. Here is a transliteration of the text:

gbrt’ yshw` mshykh

This tattoo’s owner believes it means “Jesus Christ Almighty,” but ambiguity lies within the word gbrt’.

In some dialects of Modern Aramaic, Arabic loan sounds and loan words have creeped into the language. To represent these, some dialects use diatrics to represent Arabic phonemes by marking similar consonants.

For example, the set of diatrics used to write Arabic text in Syriac letters is known as “Garshuni” (or “Karshuni”) where small loops and dots are added into the crooks of the letters to indicate the Arabic equivalents. In Assyrian dialects, a similar principle is applied, where a squiggle “~” (known as a Majliana) is placed under or over certain consonants.

The letter in question is the gâmal “G” at the beginning.

(The sounds Gâmal makes.)

When tattooing, sometimes these diatric squiggles can end up looking like standard vowel markers. Because of this gbrt’ can first be read as a loan-word from the Arabic “jabbar” which means “almighty.” Jbârthâ’, however, should be masculine, not feminine as it would be an adjective (i.e. Jesus -is- mighty). This would make the entire translation read:

jbârthâ’ yeshû` mshîkhâ’
“(She is) Almighty: Jesus Christ”

…which doesn’t seem to be what the owner is after.

On the other side of interpretation lies gebârthâ’ which is a word found in several dialects of Aramaic (most notedly Syriac) where it is the feminine form of gabrâ’ which means “man” (i.e. “woman”). This would make the translation read:

gebârthâ’ yeshû` mshîkhâ’
“The Woman: Jesus Christ”

…also not quite what they were after.

I won’t repeat myself again as to how important it is to double-check your translations. 🙂 Aramaic Designs will do it for free so there is no excuse!


Danielle Lloyd’s Hebrew Tattoo Disaster

Master (soon to be Doctor) Tyler Williams of Codex (of whom I am a big fan) has found what I believe to be one of the most tragic tattoos of all time:

Its owner, Danielle Lloyd (a British fashion model currently amidst some scandal or another) apparently did not check her sources well before inking this down her back.

The text reads as follows:

אונלי גוד קן ג”ודג ם, אונלי גוד כן ג”ודג ם
‘wnly gwd qn g”wdg m, ‘wnly gwd kn g”wdg m

Now, those of you who read Hebrew, stop scratching your heads for a moment and take a closer look at the English transliteration.

Still not seeing it?

Let me add in some vowels for you:

אונלי גוד קן ג”ודג ם, אונלי גוד כן ג”ודג ם
‘only god qan judg m, ‘only god kan judg m

Yes. It -is- saying what you think it is. This tattoo has transliterated the English phrase “Only God can judge metwice and incorrectly.

I believe that on Codex, Pat McCullough commented best:

“Well, only God can judge her.”