A new blog idea! Latin Tattoos!

Being known for a stong knowledge of Latin brings me all sorts of weird questions.  

People are forever asking me to translate stuff for them, as if my knowledge and copious free time were simply at their disposal for free. 

Things get interesting when they want to know the Latin for some silly phrase they intend to tattoo on their bodies.

Almost always they tell what they intend to have tattooed.

Nearly always it is wrong. 

I never correct them.

Now I read a news story which a reader alerted me to:

It’s Latin to them: Ashley Dupre’s tattoo flummoxes pros


Tuesday, June 10th 2008, 4:00 AM
What does Ashley Dupre’s tattoo mean?

Revealing Daily News pictures of Eliot Spitzer’s favorite hooker cavorting on the beach gave rise to some obvious musings, but also some not-so-obvious, like: What exactly does that tattoo mean?   [HEY!  A new blog idea?   What Does the Hooker’s Latin Really Say?]

Ashley Alexandra Dupre’s teeny bikini exposed a Latin phrase inked on her lower belly: tutela valui.  [For pity’s sake…]

Experts said it was pseudo Latin, like the mostly meaningless Chinese characters some people tattoo on themselves – but even stodgy scholars were chuckling at the double entendres jumping out of it.  [No, it is not pseudo Latin.  That phrase can actually mean something in Latin.]

Tutela, which is related to tutor, has to do with a protector or guardian. Valui appears to be a past form of the word strong. [valeo]

"So I guess you would say it means, ‘I have a strong patron’ or ‘I have a strong keeper,’" said Doug Machle, assistant to the chairman in the classics department at the University of Washington.  [?]

"Or, actually, it’s more like, ‘My guardian was strong.’"  [?]

Others read it differently.  [!]

Daniel Nodes, a classics professor at Ave Maria University in Florida, translated it as "I’ve been well and remain that way because I have protection."  [Better]

Mark Buchan, a classics professor at Columbia, took a different tack, musing that it could mean "safe haven."  [?!?]

One California professor translated it as "I have been highly proficient in support" – which he further simplifies to "I have been an expert escort."  [?]

In any case, Latin teachers are used to seeing lots of fishy tattoos.  [You can say that again!]

"Latin is really a living language – it’s a lot more prevalent than you’d think," said Gerry Visco, administrator of the classics department at Columbia.

"We get a lot of people calling up – every day, I’d say – wanting to put something on a mug or T-shirt. They think there’s a team of scribes sitting here waiting to translate for them."  [Yah… and they think it’s free.]


Okay, folks… what does the hooker’s tattoo really say?

Let’s hear your theories.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. RBrown says:

    Not tattoos, but ASICS, which many consider the Rolls Royce of running shoes, is an abbreviation for the Latin “Anima Sana in Corpore Sano”.

  2. OJ says:

    Could I suggest she picked the wrong words out of the dictionary, and didn’t decline the noun properly, but was trying to hit “I was worth the price”? ‘Tutela’ can be ‘charge’, in the sense of a guardianship… and it would suit her line of work.

  3. Mary says:

    Typical of my college days and sitting in Latin class I grabbed the Latin-English Dictionary and came up with “collectively protect”… what is she trying to protect. ;)

  4. Le Renard says:

    “I’ve been well and remain that way because I have protection.”

    Is this some slogan for contraception?

  5. Mark says:

    “I have remained well by means of protection.” Or, more loosely, “Condoms have kept me safe.”

  6. Manuel says:

    I have been strong with protection, or some such idea is what it really says. According to the L&S online tutela can also mean a cure or remedy. That word is what tripping everyone up since it has more than one meaning and no one can tell whether it is in the nominative or ablative or vocative. “Oh guardian/cure, I have been strong.”

    My old Latin professors in college also used to tell us about people calling them up for tatoo transaltions.

  7. Prof. Basto says:

    Protection has kept me well.

  8. Rob F. says:

    Hmmm. Tutela can mean one of three things.

    1. Protection
    2. A protector
    3. A thing protected, a ward

    In this sentence, it has of three possible declensions.

    A. Vocative
    B. Nominative
    C. Ablative

    So I see 3×3 = 9 possible meanings.

    1A. O protection, I have availed.
    1B. I am protection, [and] I have availed.
    1C. I have succeeded by protection.

    2A. O protector, I have availed.
    2B. I am a protector, [and] I have succeeded.
    2C. I have succeeded by means of my protector.

    3A. O protected one, I have availed.
    3B. I am protected, [so] I have succeeded.
    3C. I have succeeded by means of the protected one.

    Context is everything when choosing the right possible meaning, and I have no idea what the context of a tatoo on the lower belly might mean.

  9. Tom S. says:

    The better question is “What does the Hooker THINK her tattoo says???”

    Who wants to ask? Any volunteers?

  10. pseudomodo says:

    I think it means Strong Protection.

    It’d like a warning label on a product…

    You know… wear gloves and eye protection..

  11. pseudomodo says:

    I think it means Strong Protection.

    It’s like a cautionary warning label on a product…

    You know… wear gloves and eye protection…

  12. John P says:

    How about

    I have kept well thanks to my pimp

  13. Lynne says:

    How about “I don’t really care what the hooker tattoos on her body”? j/k :-)

  14. Lanna says:

    I think we should avoid the slang term “hooker” and refer to her as a “prostitute”.

  15. Kizito says:

    I wish you would stop using the words “hooker” or “prostitute” altogether when referring to her. Though I acknowledge she is guilty of both professions, when I read the posts it really comes across as dehumanizing. We’ve had a few saints who were prostitutes. Perhaps this woman will someday make the transition to sainthood.

  16. Kizito says:

    Father, you should open a Latin translation service, that way you could charge for the translations people request. Just send them a bill in the mail when they ask you for a translation, of course you should be careful about this as it could backfire.

    A doctor once approached a lawyer at a dinner party and said to him, “People constantly approach me at parties and social events asking me for medical advice. How should I deal with this problem?”

    Not missing a beat the lawyer replied, “Provide the advice and send them a bill in the mail.”

    “That’s a great idea,” replied the doctor and he immediately set about on this task.
    He was satisfied with the lawyer’s pragmatic advice, until he opened his mailbox three days later and discovered a $300 bill from the lawyer for “Legal Services Rendered.”

  17. I think some people take some things far too seriously. So, I will close this combox lest we lurch into a rabbit hole.

Comments are closed.