Most tattoo artists offer four, count 'em, four opportunities to make peace with your eternal embellishment.
You explain the design. They draw it. You initial it. You inspect the stencil pressed to your body.
And still. Ask for stories.
"Oh, that one can't go in the newspaper," said Mike Wior, who owns Collective Tattoo and Gallery on Central Avenue in St. Petersburg.
Oh, but it can. A guy asked for "sick of love" inked across his knuckles. Tragically, he requested graffiti letters, including an "S" that looked like a "D."
You do the spelling.
"People come in with drawings and they're just completely wrong," Wior said. "Absolutely, we'll say something. The tattoo reflects on them, but it reflects directly on us."
We love bad tattoos, those kick-me signs forever pressed into pigment.
When Rihanna got "rebelle fleur" tattooed on her neck recently, the blogosphere sneered, calling it bad French grammar. Rihanna disagreed, and sent her tattoo artist a text message warning, according to OK! magazine:
rebelle fleur translates to rebel flower, NOT rebelious flower, its 2 nouns so in that case fleur does not HAVE to be first! Fyi, cuz they will ask
People had good reason to question. Rihanna already has a misspelled Sanskrit tattoo for "Forgiveness, Honesty, Suppression and Control." David Beckham wanted his wife's name, "Victoria," in the same language. He got "Vihctoria."
Heroes star Hayden Panettiere's tattoo says Vivere senza rimipianti, or "to live without regrets" in Italian. That would be fine, except it's actually spelled "rimpianti."
Perennial favorite Britney Spears has a Japanese character tattoo meant to say "mysterious." But actor Taryn Manning got the same tattoo when they filmed Crossroads together, and later told a reporter the translation means "strange."
"If you don't speak the language you shouldn't have it tattooed on your body," said Walt Smith, manager of Poda Tattoo in Clearwater. "You have to cover yourself."
Despite — or perhaps because of — the erosion of our spelling and grammar skills thanks to texting and Internet shorthand (LOL! c u l8r! kthxbai!) we've seen a cultural upswing in attention to wordplay.
This year, two self-described "grammar vigilantes" released The Great Typo Hunt, a book of typos discovered on a road trip. A Facebook group called "I judge you when you use poor grammar" has almost a half-million followers. Popular, too, are a roll of grammar blogs: "Apostrophe Abuse," "Grammar Girl," "Red Pen, Inc."
When blunders are permanent, it makes mocking easier.
MyTattooSucks.com celebrates the worst in bad ink. Thigh-high Michael Jackson anyone? Marvin the Martian? And just hit Google for a scholarly sampling of body art — Beautiful Tradgedy, F--- the Systsem, Chi-Tonw, Sweet Pee and perhaps the most poetic, I'm Awsome.
Asian character tattoos, or kanji, are a hotbed of horrors.
"One lady came in with one that was supposed to say, 'love life,' said Shaun Embry, an artist from Lou's Tattoos in Madeira Beach. "It ended up meaning egg roll."
Kanji and other generic designs come in sheets called "flash racks" — basically clip art. For impulsive folks who point to a neato design and plop into the chair, it can be disastrous.
"Some tattoos artists aren't educated," said Lenny Welch, owner of Addicted 2 Tattoos in Tampa. She has a bachelor's degree in fine art from the University of South Florida and tries to help people research their choices.
But how much can you do? A customer once asked for "Tito Mario," which she thought was a name. The customer meant to ask for tio, the Spanish word for uncle.
Tattoo removal can be painful and cost thousands of dollars. Most tattoos can be covered up, usually with one that's bigger. Or you can get creative like Johnny Depp, who famously tweaked his devotional to ex-girlfriend Winona Ryder into "Wino Forever."
Bottom line, it falls on you.
"We take every character as a piece of art," Embry said. "When they bring it in, we do it up."
He only recalls one typo in his career — an extra "L" in Philippians.
"Every tattoo artist has had one of those in their day," he said. "I'm not an English major. I'm a tattoo artist."
The customer proofread it four times.