Foreign scripts as decoration

Using foreign words, alphabets, or language scripts as decoration—as we see with Engrish on Japanese clothing or with Westerners tattooed with Chinese characters of unknown or dubious meaning—is widespread and ordinary, but I was still interested to see this particular object at the British Museum when I was in London in July. The label given said:

Sardonyx: nonsense Greek inscription
Roman, 3rd century AD
Blacas Collection

I’m sorry the picture is so terrible, but it was taken with a camera phone and the item is not available in the British Museum’s online database. The point, anyway, is that this kind of decorating with nonsense language has a long history.

Posted September 10, 2006

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