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Firesof athvezhvenari! Happy New Year! 2014 was a pretty swell year for Dothraki, as it saw the publication of Living Language Dothraki, the official introductory guide to the language, but onward we ride!

To start the new year off, I thought I’d go back and do a post I’ve been wanting to do for some time. A while back, Monserrat Vargas asked me for a translation of the famous Star Trek phrase “To boldly go where no man has gone before” into High Valyrian, as she intended to get it tattooed. I provided the translation here, and shortly thereafter, she got it tattooed—and sent me the pictures! Since I had her on the line, though, I decided to turn her new acquisition into an interview.

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You see, I, like the majority of Americans, do not have any tattoos. (A poll quoted here says about 23% of Americans have tattoos, as of 2010.) This is not something that’s likely to change, as I can’t imagine getting a tattoo, and my wife is opposed. Unlike the majority of people who actively do not want to get tattoos, though, I think tattoos are the absolute coolest things in the world. I have opinions about what makes a good tattoo, and how much is too much, for my aesthetic tastes, but in general, I find tattoos fascinating and, well, badass. Nothing’s tougher than a tattooed biceps.

Because of this fascination, I’m always curious as to why those with tattoos get them, why they chose the tattoos they chose, etc. In the case of Monserrat Vargas, the choice is doubly interesting—not merely because she decided to get a tattoo in High Valyrian, but because this was her very first tattoo! I’m not certain, but I think that may be a first, for my languages (as far as I know, everyone else who had something tattooed in one my languages already had other tattoos). To learn more about why she made this decision and what went on behind the scenes, I conducted an interview with Monserrat Vargas over e-mail, which is copied below (with pictures!). Enjoy!

Q: Is this your first tattoo? If so, why did you decide to get a tattoo? If not, why did you decide to get your first tattoo? (Feel free to go into the meaning, but I’m also curious why you thought a tattoo was the way to go.)

A: Yes, this was my very first tattoo. I’ve always known that I wanted tattoos. They do tend to get a bad rap because they’re so permanent and that’s an intimidating thought. But to me, they’ve always represented the wearer at their deepest—most honest—level. I wanted my tattoos to be a visual representation of who I am. However, I also wanted it to be subtle. Truly an art piece. Everyone chooses how best to express themselves—I chose tattoos! The decision to FINALLY get my first tattoo was made because I was about to embark on a new stage of my life. I was leaving my hometown of Los Angeles, California to move to Seattle, Washington. It felt right to get my first tattoo as a tribute to my hometown. It would be the ultimate reminder of family and friends!

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[Note: I didn’t know you lived in LA! But now that you’re gone, I’m going to be in Seattle this April for Norwescon. We should meet up!]

Q: What’s your connection to Star Trek—and what’s your favorite instantiation of the series?

A: I’ve been a huge fan of Star Trek from a very young age. It inspired my love for the stars and most especially for the science-fiction genre. Of course I love TOS (Star Trek: The Original Series). That was how I discovered Star Trek and that’s a bond that can’t be matched. But, as sacrilegious as it may be to say, I especially loved Enterprise because I was old enough to catch the real time broadcasts as opposed to discovering it via re-runs. It was always such a thrill to be a part of their next, great, space adventure!

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Q: You kind of answered this already, but why this quote in particular? And then why around your ankle?

A: “To boldly go where no man has gone before.” The quote that encompasses and defines Star Trek. This was a quote that followed me as I grew up. It became more than a symbol for the show—it became a value I chose to live by. It encouraged me to not do things just because they’ve always been expected and done. To genuinely consider new, and even scary, possibilities. It’s what gave me the courage to pack up and leave the home I’ve always known. The choice in placement… I’ll be answering that part of your question in question 7. ;)

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Q: Who did the lettering? It’s gorgeous! Did you do it?

A: The lettering is intended to be Elvish from Lord of the Rings. I say “intended” because there are some slight modifications that needed to be made. When you get a tattoo you can’t just tell the artist, “I want this!” Certain alterations need to be made. What looks good on paper won’t necessarily translate well to skin. I researched heavily before I got my tattoo and I finished my journey at Ink Monkey Tattoo in Los Angeles (on the corner of Venice and Lincoln). I came across artist Juan Ramón Solano (goes by Ramón). He’s a magician when it comes to line work and lettering. When I saw his portfolio I knew I was in good hands.

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Q: I’ve always been curious. A tattoo artist, in effect, has to be able to do every type of art—and well—in order to reproduce others’ drawings. And furthermore, they have to do it without making a mistake. So, like…how? How nervous are you of the tattoo artist making a mistake? Can you get your money back if they do make a mistake?

A: You’re putting a permanent piece of art on your body, of course you’re going to be scared that something’s going to go wrong! But you do your best to mitigate that fear beforehand. You REASEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH. I can’t stress that enough! Do NOT go into some random beach tattoo parlour, do NOT make this choice when you’re inebriated. Do NOT make this choice unless you are ABSOLUTELY sure it’s what you want. If you interview with an artist and you’re not comfortable, don’t do it. There was an artist I interviewed with whose portfolio was promising and seemed capable—but their station was a mess! That immediately drew me away. There were establishments I didn’t even consider for more than a minute because the entire place was a mess. If you sense a tiny bit of unease, red flag that place and walk away.

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When I walked into Ink Monkey it was immediately welcoming. The atmosphere was clean, professional, and fun. Ramón sat me down and we talked at great length about what I wanted and what options I had. We worked together on reworking the idea in my head into something that would complement me. He knew I was nervous so he thoroughly explained every part of the process and repeated himself as he began every step. He attended to my needs and helped keep me calm and happy. We build a bond of trust between artist and canvas.

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He actually did make a slight mistake! Sometimes no matter what you do—mistakes happen. But Ramón handled it like a pro! In the word nēdenkirī what he thought was an n was actually the . Ramón immediately realized his mistake—confirmed with me that it was a mistake—and set it right. He mixed an ink color that perfectly matched my skin tone and broke the line between the two letters. When he was done, you couldn’t even tell that there had ever been a mistake! When mistakes do happen, any reputable tattoo artist has methods in place to correct it and make sure you walk away absolutely thrilled with your decision. There are even tattoo artists whose portfolio consists of fixing the shoddy work of other (less talented) tattoo artists!

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Q: And, of course, the top question on the mind of anyone who’s never gotten a tattoo: On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being most), how much did it hurt?

A: In regards to pain, that depends on the location of your tattoo. If you get it in a location with more fatty tissue or muscle to cushion you, it will hurt less. But if you get it somewhere where there’s very little to cushion the bone, then be prepared for it to sting! Since I got my tattoo on my ankle, I was in quite a bit of pain! The WORST bit was closer to the heel. I was handling it like a champ until he got to that part. Ultimately, it’s a needle piercing just underneath your skin. If you can’t handle a shot—then I’d rethink a tattoo. In answer to your question I started out with a 6/10 but it definitely ended with an 8/10!

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Q: Any ideas for another tattoo if you’re getting one?

A: As far as other tattoos I plan to get… Now that’s where this gets pretty dorky. I got the tattoo around my ankle because this tattoo will be part 1 of a 3 part tattoo. This part is a matrimony of 3 television/book series that I deeply enjoy (Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Star Trek), all represented in a way meant to represent my love of language.

Part 2 (which I’ve already gotten as of July) is a representation of my love of music. It is located on my other ankle and it’s a musical arrangement containing pieces from Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Doctor Who.

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Click to enlarge.

The final part—which is still in the planning stages—will represent my love of symbolism in art and it will be an homage to some of my favorite video games (Gears of War, Bioshock, and World of Warcraft) that will be located between my shoulder blades. Thus turning myself into a visual representation of a Triforce. The ULTIMATE homage!

[Note: As a ten year WoW player, it’d better be the Horde emblem you’re getting, and not the Alliance!]

Thank you for taking the time and sharing your photos, Monserrat Vargas! Your tattoos are awesome! You’re a lajak tawak in my book.

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Coming soon: The Dothraki Haiku Competition. Maybe now that Living Language Dothraki has come out, we’ll see even more challengers trying to knock Qvaak off the throne!


  1. Hi David!

    I’m chilean and i send you a e-mail two months ago, asking you help me with translation for a tattoo very important to me! evidently, you don’t read yet. I know you are very busy person, but, Please, you can help me? The prhase is “I’m a daugther of the rigor, more than the talent” in dothraki. You are an expert!! I’m just part of the khalasar and i really appreciate it! Greetings!

    1. Hi Katrala! I did get your request, but at the moment Dothraki has neither a word for “rigor” nor “talent”. I have to figure out how those will work in Dothraki before I can translate the phrase. I’ll let you know when I have it.

      1. Meanwhile, here’s a clunky translation using the words at hand:

        Anha ohara athchongari k’athalezar, vos azhoqoyisi.

        It says “I am a daughter of hardness rather, not of bloodgift.”

        I was going to use “birth-gift” as a circumlocution for “talent”, but given asshekhqoyi I’m sure the Dothraki would rather say “blood-gift”.

        K’athalezar “with more-ness” is a clunky way of saying “rather”. I’m sure the Dothraki have a better word for that, though they can be surprisingly clunky with their adverbs. Alle already seems to exist and have a different connotation (“farther”).

        I don’t know the correct genitive form for azhoqoyi, given that the word already ends in a lexicalized genitive. According to the rules on the wiki, it should be azhoqoyii, but somehow I doubt it would stay that way. My guess is either azhoqoyisi (borrowing the epenthetic -s- from the animate forms) or just azhoqoyi. I picked the former for more clarity for now.

        Finally, if you mean rigor to express “hard training” rather than just “hardness”, it might be better to replace athchongari with something like lajilati nikha “painful training”.

  2. I’m planning my own tattoo collection.

    Mine will be based on all of my favourite fantasy books and movies.

    GOT tattoos: Perzys Anogar on my chest in High Valyrian writing and Winter is Coming down my spine in the language and writing of the First Men, however that turns out.

    LOTR tattoo: the writing on the One Ring, also on my back.

    Narnia tattoo: TBA probably on my belly.

    Disney tattoo: A Hero’s Strength Is Measured By His Heart on my arms in Ancient Greek writing.

    Monserrat Vargas, your tattoo collection is awesome.

    1. The Disney tattoo is a quote from Hercules. As tongue in cheek and silly as that movie is, that’s a pretty cool quote.

      1. Well, you have to make the first move, because I can’t get that first one done until I know what the High Valyrian writing for “Fire & Blood” is. THEN I tattoo it on my chest. :)

  3. Thank you! I’m pretty proud of my growing tattoo collection. I can’t wait to complete the set!

    And David, this post is totally awesome, I’ll definitely be sharing it online! Thank you!

  4. No tattoos here! But I have thought about it.

    I read the article backwards and at first thought it was the ring inscription from LOTR (which I should translate into Dothraki). But High Valyrian looks really cool in a middle-earthian Elvish script!

    Zhey Broken Wolf, I would be very curious to find out what quote you eventually would use from Narnia. That is undoubtedly my favorite fantasy world, and there is lots of good material there to choose from. I just wish Narnia had more opportunities for conlangs. Itsone of the few fantasy worlds where the official language is the King’s English ;)

    1. Yeah, I’ve become sad about that too, Hrakkar, trust me. But C.S. Lewis, as much as I think he makes J.K. Rowling look like Stephenie Meyer, was not a philologist, so the creation of new languages wasn’t exactly his forte.

    2. I’ve decided my Narnia tattoo will be “Courage, Dear Heart”.

      Bit cliched, I know, because everyone has it, but I realize that’s because it’s a great fricking quote. Even for C.S. Lewis.

  5. Hello David! I am loving the Dothraki language in the GOT series and i want to get a tattoo that says “if i look back i am lost” from the first book of a song of ice and fire. i was wondering if you could translate it for me into Dothraki?! please and thank you!!!

  6. Hi, I am hoping to find a translation of “If I look back I am lost” in either high valyrian or astapori valyrian. I’m shopping around for the most accurate translation as this will be a tattoo! Thanks in advance.

  7. @Elizabeth Hi! I read your question while trying to Google the same answer. I actually emailed David and this was his reply.

    “If I look back, I am lost” in High Valyrian: “Lo yno inkot ūndion, qrīdropēnna”

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