I am always suspicious of tattoos of Chinese characters. “It means divine happiness,” the bearer might say. But I suspect the logogram might really say, “Stupid Westerner.”
Similarly, I would never buy a tee shirt which bore a slogan if I didn’t know what it said. Recently in clinic, I saw a lady wearing a top which said, “Love is the Answer”, with a smaller subtext, “It is the key to the gate of happiness”. As she spoke to my interpreter about her medical problems, I wondered whether love was the answer for her. She was a single mother with two children and was finding it difficult to cope.
Sometimes the tee shirts have a slogan which doesn’t quite match the wearer.
A few weeks ago, I saw an older lady who looked strange because her face was a bit lopsided. She had a glass eye which was too big for the eye socket. She had also had a stroke some years ago, resulting in an arm which was flexed and useless. Her jacket had the word “Desire” picked out in diamante and sequins. She had no idea what the word meant.
I took this photograph of a lady’s orange polo shirt which featured a photograph of her son who had gained a doctorate at university. Forget the obligatory photographs of the begowned graduate, clutching a scroll and wearing a tasselled mortar board. This was the ultimate advertisement of academic achievement. She was very proud.
Occasionally, young men attend the clinic wearing a tee shirt advertising, “World’s Greatest Lover” or “Sexy Beast”. I reckon that they know what is written on their chest. And I have a good idea of why they are seeing me at the clinic. Some of the baseball caps on sale here are rather tasteless and unSwazi. I can’t recall ever hearing a Swazi use a swear word.
Another young lad visited the clinic last week wearing a crimson tee shirt bearing the multi-coloured slogan, “I ain’t worried bout nothin’.” I know what it is trying to say, but taken literally, the double negative means he is worried about something. Which is presumably why he is seeking medical advice.
PS A double negative indicates a positive, but there are no examples of a double positive meaning a negative…“Yerr-right!” (This quip comes from a FaceBook posting by Nigel Puttick, who shared a wrecked house in Coldharbour Lane, Brixton with me as a medical student in the winter of 1976-77.)