Spanish tattoos

Tu cuerpo se constela de signos verdes 
como el cuerpo del árbol de renuevos. 
No te importe tanta pequeña cicatriz luminosa: 
mira al cielo y su verde tatuaje de estrellas. – Octavio Paz

Do you have a tattoo? Would you ever consider getting one? What do you think of tattoos? Yea or nay? I like tattoos in theory (though rarely in actuality), and I wish I were brave enough to get one. A beautiful sleeve or something on my upper arm or shoulder or back. It doesn’t fit well with my personality, though. And I like simplicity–white walls, clear surfaces, silence. I’ll live vicariously through other people’s tattoos, then.

Yesterday I learned how to say to get a tattoo in Spanish: hacerse un tatuaje

Ah! I never knew. I knew tatuaje, of course, as well as tatuar/tatuarse. But I didn’t know hacerse un tatuaje. Who knows, maybe I’ll be seized by some perfect line or image someday when I’m in a Spanish-speaking country. Now I’ll know how to tell someone to direct me to the nearest tattoo parlor stat.

You’d think that maybe you could just say tatú for tattoo, but it doesn’t work that way. Tatuaje sounds to me like tattooage, which sounds like how you’d describe the oeuvre of tattoos on a person’s body. Rest assured, though: tatuaje is tattoo, and tatú is, well, an armadillo. At least in the Southern Cone. I remember learning that word from Horacio Quiroga. One time in Medellín, I was with a group of people when one guy walked off for a while. When he came back, he said he’d gone across the street to eat a gurre sandwich. Gurre, as it turned out, is a rural Colombian word for armadillo. An armadillo sandwich? I can’t tell you how glad I am that I wasn’t offered any. Cachicamo is another Colombian way of saying armadillo.

I’ll admit that I don’t understand the grammar in the construction hacerse un tatuaje. It would sound like you’re giving yourself a tattoo, but I implicitly trust that somehow, in some way, it means just what it’s supposed to mean. It reminds me of hacerse un manicure, which is how you say to get a manicure, something I did many, many times in Colombia. Or, me corté el pelo, which is how you say I got a haircut. I don’t understand how these reflexive actions actually refer to someone else doing it to you, but I don’t understand how anything works in English either. Let’s let sleeping dogs lie.

Want a tattoo in Spanish but lack inspiration? Let’s look at a few.

Lo que sea necesario - Whatever it takes

Whatever it takes

I want nothing more than my madness

I want nothing more than my madness

To be happy one must learn to love what they do

To be happy one must learn to love what they do

You have to do everything in excess

You have to do everything in excess

Freedom's slave

Freedom’s slave

It never rains eternally

It never rains eternally

Too much

Too much

Gabriel García Márquez

Gabriel García Márquez

Feel inspired? Ready to get inked up? Nah, me neither. It’s interesting, though, to see what messages people try to immortalize on their bodies. Our bodies are temporary, anyway–why not make it our canvas? If you absolutely had to get a tattoo in Spanish, what line or word would you choose? To put it differently, if someone paid you a million dollars to get a tattoo of something in Spanish, what would you pick and why? Me, hmm. If just a word, maybe ojalá. A phrase? Mm, surely something from Neruda or Cortázar or García Lorca. Or Silvio Rodríguez. You may have, ahem, noticed that I’m a big fan of these people! What about you? Ever hear anything in Spanish so beautiful or so poignant you’d etch it on your body? Maybe this blog is my tattoo–I’m writing things down here because there isn’t room enough on my body. So many beautiful words, so many words full of meaning. Where are you writing things down?

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12 responses to “Spanish tattoos

  1. Oh no, I love tattoos, and I too think a rockin sleeve would be just gorgeous, but I just change too much to get something so permanent done. I love vicariously through my partner, who would get a new tatuaje done every week if he could.

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    • You know, I put the link to this post on Facebook, and one acquaintance’s knee-jerk reaction to my provocative title was “It will be permanent.” Hello, duh! I responded by saying all the better, finally, something that will last! ;) All joking aside, yes, I can’t think of any image or word I’d truly like to adorn me into my old age. But kudos to those who aren’t as fickle or who, like Syd below, like to keep a record of their different stages on their bodies.

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  2. Despite getting a tattoo in Colombia I failed to learn (remember?) that it is something one hacerses, good to know! I wanted something to remember Colombia with (I have a small collection from various places), but felt it would be strange to get one in Spanish since I’m not fluent, so I went with a matchstick since I got called a fosforito quite a bit. I generally like tattoos, I like to think that even if I don’t like it forever it will always be a reminder of what I liked then.

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    • ¿Te hiciste un tatuaje en Colombia? ¡Qué bacano! I kind of wish I’d done the same thing. Maybe one day. I don’t think it would be strange at all for you to get one in Spanish– for a time, you lived and thought in Spanish. Fosforito because of your red hair? I like your philosophy of tattoos. As we move on in life and scorn and discard our old likes and replace them with things we think are cooler and better and more sophisticated, I think it’s great that you pay homage to the things you’ve loved. All of your selves– you at 10, you at 16, you at 22, etc.– are worthy of being remembered and celebrated.

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  3. Ya lo escribí aquí, tengo un tatuaje de murciélago al estilo precolombino en la espalda. Lo hice en Colombia después de un paseo en el parque Tayrona. Es el primero que me hice, y creo que será el último.
    “Hacerse” sounds natural to me, probably because we can say the same way in colloquial French. Must be a latin language thing.

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  4. whatwhileweslept

    The reflexive construction is clearly akin to our “treat oneself to a tattoo.” Haha. Just kidding. I like what my tattoo says about my pain threshold way more than I like the tattoo. Didn’t expect that. Oh well. Your skin is so nice, it doesn’t need adornment. :) Unless you want a tattoo, of course. In which case—get one! It’s fun to be able to tell people you have one. Often comes as a surprise.

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  5. Hmmm, I had never thought about the weirdness of using the reflexive. I wonder why the reflexive is used?

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  6. If somebody gave me a million dollars to get a tattoo, I’d go for something ironic like “nada es eterno en el mundo.” Which is why I don’t do tattoos: from my perspective they are permanent, and I don’t like that. Yes, I am temporary but as long as I have any awareness, the tattoo will be there.

    I don’t want to rain on the parade, but most people I know would either make fun of the expression “me hice un tatuaje,” or at least think about it. Same thing for “cortarse el pelo” (or “peluquearse” like you might have said in a previous post). Tongue-in-cheek, of course. They would say, “se cortó el pelo o se mando cortar el pelo?” “Se hizo un tatuaje o se mando hacer un tatuaje?” And I guess that might clarify the use of the reflexive in the construction. There are many of those. “Me teñí el pelo.” “Me hice la permanente.”

    Most of the time, you don’t do these things to yourself. You get somebody else to do them. It might be that the important thing here is not who did it but what the result was, and that is why some it is not uncommon to hear the refexive. There are simpler tasks that will illustrate the difference: “me pinté las uñas,” compared to “me mandé pintar las uñas.” Now we become more accepting of the difference because polishing your own nails is something that can be easily done; cutting your own hair or tattooing your own skin, while possible, is not as easy or as common.

    Well, me voy a almorzar.

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    • Don’t ever worry about raining on my parade! I love to be corrected!

      I know that in most places they say hacer un tatuaje a secas. You can find a bazillion examples of this online, including for Colombia. I see now online that in some places they say mandar hacer un tatuaje, and the few examples I see are almost all from Colombia. ¿Será que los colombianos hablan el mejor castellano que hay? That, or they’re just weird. OK, I will definitely keep this in mind. Thanks! You know, I’ve never really mastered the whole mandar + infinitive construction. Gotta get that down.

      Do people really say almorzarse? I don’t remember. Desayunarse, yes. Here, you’ll probably enjoy this post: https://vocabat.com/2012/04/11/hasta-ahora-me-desayuno/ :)

      Sí, se puede decir “she cut her hair short” aunque ella no se lo haya cortado ella misma.

      Your point about articles vs. possessive pronouns is a good one. (And your suggestion that you haven’t mastered English is absurd and one I’m not even going to address.) Yes, my car, my head– se sobreentiende. But how about kids and parents saying mi when it’s obvious and it’s the other person’s kid/parent too? ¡Mi mamá te va a regañar! (Mom’s gonna yell at you!) See here: http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=862594

      I think it’s all interesting :) I try not to get too worked up about the whys– I just eat it up happily and don’t ask questions. Como y callo.

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      • Oh yes, that “mi mamá” thing is very funny. I was never aware of it until and English speaker pointed it out. Le voy a decir a mi mamá que usted rompió el florero. Funny how siblings didn’t use it “tutearse.” I think that might be changing now.

        There is no “almorzarse.” The “me” in “me voy a almorzar” refers to “voy.” Me voy a hacer esto, me voy a hacer aquello… This pretty much implies that you don’t have the lunch with you but you have to go somewhere else to eat it. If I am home and the lunch is right there then I would say “voy a almorzar.” It’s not like with breakfast that you are saying literally that you are going to eat yourself. “Apenas te desayunas?” That’s funny.

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  7. Thinking about it a bit more, it seems that, many times, the possessive in English plays a similar role as the reflexive in Spanish. Some times, when I am in the mood to act like a smart ass, just like above when questioning whether somebody cut his/her own hair or got someone else to cut it, I point out, in English, that I am not about to question the ownership of something so there is no need to stress that this or that is “my” whatever. My poor girlfriend is the one that has to put up with it, but she gets plenty of laughs quite often at the expense of my lack of mastership of the English language. For instance, in Spanish someone would say “tengo que llevar el carro al taller.” In English, the person would say “I have to bring MY car to the mechanic.” So there is this assumption in Spanish that “the car” is your car and there is no need to stress it out. More to the point, you would say “me duele la cabeza.” The equivalent in English would be “MY head hurts.” Here, if you are feeling pain then it is implicit that the head is yours, not somebody else’s head. In Spanish, you feel the pain; it seems like in English the head is experiencing the pain. If your hair is wet you say “tengo el pelo mojado” instead of “MY hair is wet.” You are much better at these things than me, what do you think?

    As for the original idea of “me hice un tatuaje” as opposed to “me mande hacer un tatuaje,” I think that a similar shortcut can be taken in English to emphasize that you now have a tattoo, ignoring the process of how you got it. Isn’t it true that someone could say, for example, “she cut her hair short” when, in fact, she didn’t cut it herself?

    Finally, I think one of the most nonsensical reflexives in Spanish is “desayunarse.” Just funny and odd.

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