Nicki Minaj’s Chinese Tattoo

Nicki Minaj has one of the more interesting Chinese tattoos out there. It’s not particularly pretty (it was clearly not the ink work of a Chinese calligrapher!), but the traditional characters are correct mostly correct and legible. The tattoo:

Nicki-Minaj-Tattoo

It means “God is with you.”

The tattoo uses traditional Chinese characters:

上帝

Here’s the simplified character version (it only differs by one character):

上帝

And pinyin:

Shàngdì yǔ nǐ cháng zài

The grammar, though, seems a little strange to me. The sentence I’m used to hearing (at Catholic churches in China) is:

上帝同在

同在 is just a fancy way to say “to be with.” So what’s up with 常在? You’re probably used to taking on the meaning of “often,” “frequent,” or “usually,” as in 常常, 经常, 通常, 平常, etc. “God is usually with you” certainly doesn’t seem like the most confidence-insiring blessing.

Here, though, is used more to refer to a “normal,” unchanging, continuous state. So although neither this sentence nor the Catholic version is everyday Chinese, they both make sense.

When I asked my wife for her impressions on Nicki Minaj’s tattoo, she made the following comments:

  • Those characters look like they were written by a poorly-educated elementary school student.
  • She should have chosen simplified characters; less ink is less pain.
  • Foreigners’ Chinese character tattoos are like our stupid English t-shirts. But at least we can take off the t-shirts whenever we want.
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