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I saw someone get a tattoo saying

Da ist Liebe.

But when I did a Google search, there were no results as to what it means. I know that "ist Liebe" translates as "is love" – but what about the word "Da"?

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    Does not make sense. Maybe a bad translation from "There is love" with "there is" working expletive like "Es gibt". Or "da" is literally "there" and it is refering to perhaps another tattoo with a free relative clause. Who knows without further info. Commented Jul 10, 2023 at 6:07
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    Another assumption: the location of the tattoo determines, where the bearer assumes, his love is located.
    – guidot
    Commented Jul 10, 2023 at 6:41
  • I agree that “da ist Liebe” on its own is not a meaningful German sentence. However it could function as the post-positioned main clause after a subordinate clause beginning with “wo”. For example in “Wo Glaube ist, da ist Liebe”, or other variants.
    – fdb
    Commented Jul 15, 2023 at 12:36

2 Answers 2

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Intentionally cryptic texts on tattoos are a common thing. So are unintentionally cryptic ones and just really bad ones. It's hard to discern what this is without further context.

A bad retranslation from English "there is love" is completely possible, but I'm not sure about the very broad statement "there is love" as an intended meaning of a tattoo.

Another possible translation of "Da ist Liebe" would be "there is love there" or "love is over there" or, in some dialects of German, "love is over here". Which could refer to some body part or another tattoo or the person as a whole or whatever else.

The meaning could also refer to something that only the person and their confidants know. For example, "Da" could, as a hidden meaning, refer to a person or a place or anything really. Maybe someone called Daniela, maybe just an implied "there".

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    There's an urban legend/trope where someone gets a tattoo with the Chinese characters for "good luck", then a person who can actually read Chinese says that characters really say "soy sauce". I don't know if that ever happened, but the moral is don't get a tattoo in a language in which you're not fluent. An exception might be certain well-established mottoes like "Semper fi".
    – RDBury
    Commented Jul 10, 2023 at 19:30
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    When I see someone with a "semper fi"-tattoo (which isn't even real latin, because "fi" is not a word) I am inclined to reply "si tacuisses". To put it in a modern language: most probably the wearer of such a tattoo is a layman?
    – bakunin
    Commented Jul 10, 2023 at 20:34
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Every single English-German dictionary could tell you that the German word »da« means »there.« And normally I would have closed this question, because we don't normally answer questions that can be easily answered by looking them up in a dictionary. But there is another issue with this tattoo, and so I'll answer anyway, even though you didn't ask directly:


This tattoo is obviously a failed translation of the English sentence

There is love.

  • there (local adverb) = da, dort
  • is (copula verb) = ist
  • love (noun) = Liebe

But in almost all English sentences containing »there is«, these words do not mean »in this place is« but »it exists«. But the German words »da ist« do not have the meaning »it exists«. They only mean »in this place is«. And that doesn't make much sense when talking about a feeling. The feeling called love is not tied to a specific geographical location besides the location of the speaker. But that is exactly what the German phrase »Da ist Liebe« says, and this is the reason, why German native speakers don't say »Da ist Liebe«. This sentence is grammatically correct, but it has a weird meaning.

The correct translation of »there is« (when it means »it exists« what it almost always does) is »es gibt«. And so, this would be a correct translation for a tattoo in correct German:

Es gibt Liebe.

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    Erm… location metaphorically? Random example: „Da ist so viel Liebe in seinen Worten.“ The „da ist“ structure has been adopted to the German language quite a while ago. And it might be a messy translation, but it may just as well be a shortened phrase meaningful to the bearer of the tattoo. (Compare for example Bonhoeffer „ Da wo Liebe ist, ist der Sinn des Lebens erfüllt.“)
    – Stephie
    Commented Jul 10, 2023 at 12:12
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    "This tattoo is obviously a failed translation of the English sentence" (-1) for phrasing an educated guess as a fact. On the contrary, especially in the contrast of a tattoo, I think it's far from obvious that this should be the answer. The comment above from @Erithreus Hoffing says it all. "Who knows without further info". Commented Jul 10, 2023 at 13:47
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    You start this answer by saying that it's easy to answer such questions by looking them up in a dictionary, and then spend the rest of the answer explaining why you can't translate something by looking up individual words in a dictionary. In other words, it seems you start with an irrelevant rant, and then phrase your actual answer to the question as "another issue with this tattoo".
    – JiK
    Commented Jul 10, 2023 at 13:53
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    If one could translate correctly by looking up words we could all go home and let Google translate take over. But as long as "The board of Shell Austria" gets translated to "Das Brett der Schale Österreich" (yes, I had that once) It is maybe not that simple. Furthermore, when saying that "da" can only depict a "geographical location" - da hast Du nicht recht!
    – bakunin
    Commented Jul 10, 2023 at 20:42
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    @bakunin, yes, exactly. It's likewise strange trying to tease meanings out of pronominal adverbs if they are limited to "geographical location" in reference. Daran zu glauben wäre Zeitverschwendung. Damit aber haben alle wohl gerechnet. Jetzt, da ich mich dem Punkt nähere, das Wort „da“ perfekt zu lernen, scheinen viele pronominale Adverbien völlig nutzlos zu sein. Commented Jul 11, 2023 at 1:27

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