“Dia sábháil” sounds like a useful phrase, if only I knew how to pronounce it

At least this guy can just burn his shirt; what’s worse are those cases where someone gets a tattoo in a language they don’t understand, but they think “Hey, Japanese looks neat! And wise!”, so they transliterate something in English using a dictionary.

So about this shirt: it’s in Irish, sort of. Read the explanation for what he got wrong.

I’m often baffled by the number of people who seem to think that you can translate from one language to another simply by pulling the words of one language from a dictionary and plugging them into the syntax of the other. It just doesn’t work that way, friends. Repeat after me: “Languages are not codes for one another.”

That’s exactly what happened here, though. Someone either found a dictionary or searched the internet for the three words “blue,” “lives,” and “matter,” and stuck them together as if they were English. Oy. Dia sábháil (that’s Ulster Irish for “oy”).

You’ll have to read the rest. The punchline is particularly good.


  1. Ethan Vishniac says

    So apparently this is an ungrammatical way of saying “The substance of where black people live”?

    Catchy slogan.

  2. quotetheunquote says

    That piece totally made my day!

    The punch line, of course. But also that opening para:

    Most of the time, I feel a little bit sorry for people who make horrendous translation mistakes. This is not one of those times.


  3. What a Maroon, living up to the 'nym says

    Beautiful. I’m not surprised that this racist has no idea how language works.

  4. blf says

    I’m laughing so much at this I’ll probably wind up at the local “Irish pub” and, to calm down, down a pint of the black stuff. (Or is that blue stuff? I suppose it depends on how many pint glasses you see in front of you.) Sláinte !

  5. rietpluim says

    Fun pastime: I ran “blue lives matter” through Google Translate a few times back and forth, and it turned into “blue life affairs”.

  6. richardemmanuel says

    Oh I see blue is cops. That spoils my first guesses. Blue lives matter. I thought it might be the miserable nature of being. Or smurfs. Or saying the colour part is absurd. Or – lots of things really – it was much more fun not knowing.

  7. dontlikeusernames says

    @5 “Accusative! Accusative!”

    I just wish there was a way to pinch this idiot’s ear and force him to learn all the things in that magnificent post… and to not be a racist, obviously.

  8. mudpuddles says

    Dee-ah Savval

    More correctly, its DEE-ah SAW-voil (voil pronounced to rhyme with soil), on account of the accents over the letter a (á). Its short for “Dia ár sábháil”, meaning “god save us” (in this case, from racist idiots).

  9. bryanfeir says

    I seem to recall that there was a translation story in one of Douglas Hofstadter’s essays which involved an attempt at machine translating Russian technical documentation that kept popping up with the phrase ‘water goat’.

    It took some searching through the originals to find that it was supposed to be ‘hydraulic ram’.

  10. emergence says

    Ethan Vischniac @2

    Keep in mind that “substance” in this instance refers to an actual physical material. So, presumably bricks, concrete, wood, metal, or glass. I’m not sure how that’s different from the substance of where people who aren’t black live, but whatever.

  11. favog says

    Years ago,I ran across a website that showed people’s tattoos that incorporated Asian writing. It would then tell you what the writing was supposed to say, and compare that with what it actually said. Turns out a lot of Asian tattoo artists must not appreciate their language being used as a decoration by people who obviously don’t actually understand it.

  12. alkisvonidas says


    People should really be careful what words they’re permanently marking themselves with. Lately, tattoos in greek have become a fashion, for some reason (perhaps because most people don’t understand it, or because of visual appeal; or possibly it’s that Asian tattoos are not mysterious enough for Asian people)

    So, when someone obviously wanted to write “free” (as in “freedom”), he ended up with a “Δωρεάν” tattoo, which unfortunately means “free” as in “free beer”.

    Now, should anyone want to have a biblical phrase in greek tattooed on them (not my cup of tea), I’d recommend the Septuagint translation: you’re guaranteed to get it right, just go with chapter/verse reference.

  13. davidc1 says

    Agreed ,the punchline is ironic .i wonder if an Irish speaking person has told him what a twit he is ?.
    @22 Never get a tattoo anyway.

  14. busterggi says

    On the other hand, little old ladies with blue hair do matter – at least to their grandchildren.

  15. Owlmirror says


    Years ago,I ran across a website that showed people’s tattoos that incorporated Asian writing. It would then tell you what the writing was supposed to say, and compare that with what it actually said.

    This was/is Hanzi smatter (“HanZi” (漢字) means “Chinese characters”).

  16. shadow says

    One time (only) I set spouse’s home page to Engrish.com — Had to change it to an anime site as spouse didn’t even blink at the engrish — seemed normal to spouse.

  17. Mrs Tilton says

    This is, of course, the classical example of somebody who ordered his ink as Gaeilge and really should not have done.

  18. Mrs Tilton says

    Damien @1, not that Mudpuddles is incorrect, but up where the photo at the top of the linked blog page was taken, it’d be pronounced more like “GEE-uh SOW-al”. Slender Ds are more likely to be sounded like J in the north than the south, I’d say.

    The church in the picture atop that page, BTW, is in Gannew in Glencolmcille, where I recently spent a week. It’s from the early 19th c. and replaced an earlier medieval church, but the place has been used for worship far longer than that. Just to the west of the bell-tower there’s a cairn that served as tomb and ritual site, built ca. 1,000 BCE, half-swallowed by the earth but still clearly visible. The Donegal Gaeltacht is emphatically worth a visit.

  19. Rob Grigjanis says

    Hello, Mrs T! Haven’t seen your comments since I frequented Roy’s place some years ago.