Everyone I’ve showed this to kept trying to figure out whether it had something to do with free drugs for sailors. That said, everyone I showed it to was probably on drugs anyway. Daiyne‘s tattoo (by Sean Donovan, Sick Creations, Snohomish WA) has a far more responsible explanation — it means “drug free” in Gaelic.

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About Shannon Larratt

Shannon Larratt is the founder of BME (1994) and its former editor and publisher. After a four year hiatus between 2008 and 2012, Shannon is back adding his commentary to ModBlog. It should be noted that any comments in these entries are the opinion of Shannon Larratt and may or may not be shared by BMEzine.com LLC or the other staff or members of BME. Entry text Copyright © Shannon Larratt. Reproduced under license by BMEzine.com LLC. Pictures may be copyright to their respective owners. You can also find Shannon at Zentastic or on Facebook.

84 thoughts on “DRUG’AIL SAOR

  1. I love the ornate lettering very pretty.
    But I suspect this person has taken drugs, this is just to show they kicked them.

  2. Scots is a totally different language from Gaelic. Hard to say whether this is Scottish Gaelic (pronounced gah-lick) or Irish Gaelic (pronounced gay-lick), because the spelling’s usually the same, and the pronunciation differs somewhat.

  3. i can’t speak for scots gaelic, but if it’s irish then that shouldn’t be an apostrophe in there.
    scots wouldn’t be that different from irish. they’re extremely similar, especially compared to say irish and welsh or scots and welsh.

  4. The spelling and apostraphe are wrong in both languages. It’s kinda like getting a kanji that has a different meaning then what you think it does.

    @ red*razors I’m irish and am currently living with a scots man and we can speak gaelic and both understand each other no problem bar some little differences in words.

  5. i think its irish, im fluent. red*razors is right though, scots gaelic is very different, got some similarities though. I can understand scots gaelic if people speak it slowly.
    its sorta funny and the person who has this ink mightnt be happy but it means ‘free drugs’ literal translations dont work well with irish unfrotunately

  6. I was under the impression that drug free was saor o’ drugai, could be wrong though. I assume that if this tattoo was that off, somebody else would have corrected this by now. Seeing that I was apparently wrong, I am very glad I didn’t get that tattooed on my wrists like I was considering! I really like that font, though.

  7. too bad it isn’t centered. and i also think it is curious that people get broad statements about themselves tattooed that may not be true in the future… i suppose if things were to change for her, then the tattoo could be taken in a less literal way and more of a badge to a past way of life.

    i dunno, just something i wonder about.

  8. See, this is why I haven’t had my ideal tattoo yet (Irish Gaelic text.) I can see that the whole business of translation and meaning is really convoluted. No one wants a tat that reads wrong and exposes one’s ignorance, eh?

  9. Vicious: yep you are right, thats the correct translation.
    Saoirsa: hit me up on IAM if you want to and i will give you whatever you need translated…if you want

  10. Well, to clarify for all… yes, it is centered. It’s my shirt that’s not on straight. The top tattoo is definitely Kenna (a musician) the apostrophe, spelling and grammar are all correct. The apostrophe is actually a little mark over the “a” and in the traditional Irish Gaelic (not modern Gaelic…there’s the difference) is does mean Drug Free. And no, I have never done any drugs at all. It is with that pride that I had this done. Thank you for all of the criticism, but it is to no avail.

  11. So … it’s a grammatically incorrect Gaelic straightedge tattoo? That’s comedy gold.

  12. Somehow I don’t think a statement someone is making about their beliefs and lifestyles they hold close is comedy gold, grammatically incorrect or not. I’m fairly sure a large percentage of the population isn’t going to run up to her, mouths agape in horror, and berate her for the spelling or grammar. It just seems most folks are picking at details, and not considering intent and what it means to her deep down inside. I know her personally, and while this may disqualify me from being considered an impartial judge, but she’s not one to do things impulsively and for a lark. I love the art of it, and highly respect the meaning behind it.

  13. hey, realfolk, gentle…. i was just commenting on how giant labels like that sometimes don’t work out as long as the tattoos do. not that she, specifically, is gonna suddenly start doing blow next week. but things happen, and sometimes drugs are necessary. that’s all.

  14. I realize that things happen, and that people change. But, that’s not why I got the tattoo. It is a testament to who I am now, and who I have been for the 23 years that I have lived so far. I can’t imagine anything happening to change my views on drugs, but if it did it wouldn’t change who I was in the past; and it definitely wouldn’t make me less proud of who I was.

  15. Daiyne in tradional gaelic irish or scottish its wrong, I’m a fluent irish speaker and my housemate is a fluent scots gaelic speaker and its wrong in both languages. The “ail” at the end is what people who can’t speak irish put at the end of a word to make it sound irish over here, ie dog’ail instead of madra.

  16. Fine; whatever. The people that I know say that I’m right; the Irish Gaelic-English dictionary says that I’m right. But, go ahead guys. Tell me that my tattoo is wrong. It doesn’t matter. I’m happy with it.

  17. So you are drug free…so what? Most people are, and they don’t have big tattoos announcing it to absolutely everyone.

    What’s next, a big tattoo that reads “I avoid fatty foods” or “I have never cheated on a girlfriend?”

    Seriously — am I the only one who finds this a little annoying? Good for you, for not doing drugs. But enough with the billboard-sized announcements already. :(

  18. Spacelab,

    I think you have a personal issue with self-medication. Look inside yourself and pay attention to what’s calling from the beginning of your annoyance with it.

  19. why can noone seem to be able to write “á”?? :)

    have to agree with wilburt – emmet, wilburt and myself are all irish and can interpret the language better than your dictionary can.

  20. The friends that I trust are natives of Ireland and it is their native language. Their mother didn’t teach them English. They learned it in school. And, to Spacelab…it’s nice to see someone judging someone else’s free expression. It’s my body. I’ll billboard it the way that I choose to.

  21. Hmmm…interesting, Wilburt. When I went to that dictionary and put in drug in the english side…it came up with Drug’ail…with the fada, not an accent, as mine was supposed to be. Perhaps before you get all high and mighty next time you’ll try it yourself.

  22. I know it’s probably redundant at this stage, but I am also a native Irish speaker who has been familiar with the language all my life. Drug’ail isn’t even a word, and doesn’t look remotely Irish. The grammar is ridiculously wrong, if you were to translate it to English, it would actually mean something along the lines of ‘Free Drugs’.


  23. On typing “drug” into the dictionary that Wilbert supplied I was given this:

    DRUG = n druga
    DRUG = vt drugáil

    The “n” stands for noun and the “vt” presumably for transitive verb. A verb is NOT a noun and from your tattoo it appears that you did not choose the translation for the noun as you think you did or should have. This is the case for English, which is presumably your first language, as well as for Irish. Also a fada like the one over the a here, “á”, is NOT an apostrophe. In any case, Irish is a complicated language and a dictionary is not a good way to translate a phrase from English or any other language into it. You should listen to the people here who speak the language as your “native Irish speaking friends” are, at best, seriously confused about their native tongue. Enjoy your tattoo.


  25. I would feel like an ass if I got a tattoo with spelling/grammar mistakes like this

  26. Sorry Daiyne, but “drug’ail” isn’t even a word. The correct noun (pl) for drugs is drugaí. I know you say that these are the words you found in the dictionary, but it’s the grammar than makes all the difference. Irish cannot be translated literally, it just doesn’t work. If “drug’ail” actually made any sense, your tattoo would read “free drugs”. It’s a very pretty tattoo though.

  27. Ciara…I don’t think you have any room to talk about grammar.

    “It’s the grammar THAN makes all the difference.”


    And beside, it all comes down to two things. It’s already on my back, right or wrong, and the sentiment is still there. I did research for two years before I got the tattoo, and no one ever told me it was wrong until after I got it. So, fine. It still means the same thing to me that it always did.

  28. While obviously grammar is important and if there is a mistake that’s unfortunate, there’s definitely no point in crying over spilled milk if there’s an error. I agree with Daiyne, the tattoo is for her, and what it means to her is what counts.

    I have mistakes in a couple tattoos of mine, and I’m not thrilled about them, but the big picture still makes me quite happy and since I can’t change it, I’m not going to regret it.

  29. Daiyne… that was a typo, not grammar :/ That’s just silly. I did say your tattoo was lovely, and obviously it’s only you it has to please. I was actually trying to do you a favour by pointing out for your own record what the actual word is, since everybody else just argued it but didn’t actually give you the correct information. So now you know.

  30. Daiyne you’re right in that it’s already done, and the idea behind it is the same as when you planned it and got it done, and it is a fine looking tattoo.

    It’s just shockingly obvious how wrong it is to someone that speaks Irish.

    Drugáil (not drug’ail) = transitive verb = to drug

    So accepting that the apostrophy is supposed to be a fada, it would translate as “free to drug”…

    But all this is like trying to avoid something that’s already happened.

    As I said, you have a very nice tattoo, and so long as you’re happy with it, that’s what counts.

  31. Idiocy to get a tatoo in a language you dont understand.You’re stuck with it for the rest of your life and its not like its a small one iether.Maybe you’ll act as a lesson to thers.

  32. That’s really funny! Why would you get a tattoo in a language you don’t understand? I’m sure you’ve realised now, even though you won’t admit it, the tattoo is completely wrong! It should read Saor as drugaí

  33. Actually, as I’ve mentioned above I do realize that the tattoo is incorrect and it bothers me not at all. Despite what you may believe, I am proud of my tattoo. Everyone has at least one tattoo with a mistake in it. The fact that mine is a whole 7 inches long has no effect on me. I’m still proud of who I am, mistakes and all. I could easily have it covered up, but I won’t. I am the kind of woman to keep the ugly pictures as well as the flattering, and I have no regrets. Including the big mistake on my back. I am completely comfortable with it. And, as far as not understanding the language, I do understand it to a point. I can suffer through a conversation, though not very well. I am only second generation American, though…so when I asked my family for help, I only assumed that they would know the answer. Especially when they gave me the answer. Sure, it was the wrong answer, but that’s fine. I love me, and all that I am.

  34. so your family told you what to get written?As excuses go thats utterly ridiculous.As for being able to understand the language i dont beleive you can,being second generation american doesnt mean you can speak a language that lots of people in IRELAND cant speak.This is a great case for raising the age that people should be allowed to get tattoos.
    You’re not drug free,in your blog you talk of getting antibiotics..

  35. Oh, that’s true. Silly me…I took antibiotics to live. I am free of drugs. You can be free of recreational drugs without dying from a kidney infection. And no, my family did not tell me what to get written. They told me how to write it. Incorrectly, sure. But, that’s fine. What age would you raise it to? 30?? It’s cute that it bothers all of you so much, and it bothers me not at all.

  36. Hard luck on the mistake. If I were to try to translate it, it would be something like “to drug free” which obviously makes no sense. Someone above suggested “free to drug”, but that would be “saor le drugáil”. What it should be is “Saor óna ndrugaí” – “free from drugs”, but personally, I would have gone for “aingafa” – “unhooked (or unaddicted)”.

    From my knowledge of Early and Middle Irish, which is reasonably extensive, the apostrophe can be used in place of a fada (accute accent). However, that would mean inconsistent use of some very different languages. Saor is the one constant across the board. As “drugaí” is obviously a bastardised (or bastardized) version of the English word, it has no place in Early or Middle Irish. Aside from that, the grammar in those languages is completely different. I don’t know any scholar of Early or Middle Irish who would attempt to translate that for you, given that it’s a permanent tattoo, but obviously there are people out there willing to give it a lash, despite being unfamiliar with any Gaelic or Anglicised-Gaelic language whatsoever.

    It’s not hugely important, however. I mean, it’s totally wrong and untranslatable, but that’s entirely irrelevant. As you say, you’re American. Unless you visit Ireland, and only then, if you visit somewhere where there are people who can speak Irish, no one is going to pull you up on that error.

    In fact, if you look at it like this: you can tell everyone you know that it means whatever you like and no one will be any the wiser. You can only potentially offend those Irish people who speak the language (about 20% of 4 million people, so, about 800,000 people). Even at that, the number of fluent Irish speakers is diminishing. Even then, you’d have to actually meet one of them. Even still, they’d have to see your bare back. The odds against anyone ever pulling you up on that mistake (apart from on here, naturally) are astoundingly small. Close to 0, I’d say.

  37. I take it you did 6 minutes and 24 seconds of research before getting that tattoo? Looks like you looked up “drug” and “free” in an Irish dictionary and just wrote them on yourself. Well, you got the VERB for “drug” rather than the noun you desired, and the structure is wrong.

    Ironically and coincidentally, your tattoo is perfectly correct to mean “Free Drugging”, as if a clinic was offering free drugging. That apostraphe should be a north-east line above the A by the way.

  38. I spoke a little to soon. I see that you say it’s some older form of Irish. Well I’ve no expertise with that, so I couldn’t tell you.

    What I CAN tell you though is that the text on your back is intelligible to a speaker of Irish, and that if it seems quite wrong to them. If it were simply the term “drugáil saor” in Irish then it would be quite ambiguous, it’d have to be something like “drugáil le fáil saor in aisce” to mean “free drugging”.

    Well if you like your tattoo then that’s all that matters. I’ll just let you know that speakers of Irish will look at it funny.

  39. Daiyne.
    don’t give into these negative souls -the beauty of your intent shines through! You keep living you, and the world will change!

  40. What font did you use, Daiyne? I can’t comment on the translation, but I really like the lettering. Thanks.

  41. woah. This “discussion” kinda hurts my soul. I thought BME/IAM was a positive, accepting community. Granted, I’m not involved in the community, but I would like to see everyone else play nice.


  42. they’re just telling the truth or should they all pretend its correct?
    ignorance is bliss and its a pity you had to find out but your not the first person to mistranslate a tattoo. personally i’ve lied once to a american girl that her irish translation tattoo was correct when it had not only grammar mistakes but spelling and structural mistakes.
    Still it always makes me wonder why someone would get a tattoo when they dont speak the language or live in the country. family ties maybe but still….

  43. …..

    Why in gods name do people do things like this ? If your getting a tattoo in another language at least get someone who speaks the language to translate it for you. I cannot believe you when you say that people who know the language helped you because no person with even an average knowledge of the language could make such a mistake as you now have permanently placed on your back.

    Your tattoo is absolutely 100% WRONG grammatically. Drug’ail is not a word, not in modern Irish, not in middle irish, not in anything, and even if it was a word your tattoo would mean “Free drugs” not “drug free”.

    The correct way to say “Drug Free” would be “Saor ó dhrugaí” (free from drugs). Or if you really wanted to compact things, “Gan drugaí” (without drugs) would probably be ok and understood.

    Why bother getting something in Irish if you weren’t going to do it right ?

  44. So who messed up?, your “Irish” speaking friends how never learnt English until school, (I guess you mean they have Irish as their first language) or you in the “two years” you spent researching?
    Nice idea, up there with all the people with Chinese and other tatts with no idea what they mean…..

    As some one else said, comedy gold :D

  45. oh god that sucks… the reason i would never get a language i didnt speak fluently tatooed on my body.
    the fact that saor is after drug’ail isnt even correct, it should be before.
    does anyone actually know what drug free is in irish so at least the girl knows?

  46. I loled.

    “Everyone has at least one tattoo with a mistake in it.”
    I don’t have any tattoos.

    Seriously though, I don’t get the whole thing with tattoos in a language you don’t understand. In Belgium a wannabe Irish girl asked me to look at her tattoo saying it meant “strong”
    It said faidir.

    It just made no sense getting a tattoo in a language she didn’t even speak.

  47. Taking the apostraphe to be a síneadh fada, I would take it to mean “Cheap Drugging”.

    Mo chomhghaelgóirí, ní chiallíon an focal “saor” “free” as Béarla i dtearmái eacnamaíochta. An phrása atá uaibh ná “saor in aisce”.

  48. If I saw someone in the street with that tattoo, I’d think “what a generous soul, giving away drugs for free”, because that’s what it translates to – Free Drugs. lol.

  49. Hard luck on the tattoo. You could always stick an F in between the Drug and the Ail part and it could read DRUG FAIL – like an internet joke reference. Its still salvagable. Dont give up hope.

  50. Hey wilbur or emmet. I am looking to get eternal love as a chest piece. and i agree that you cannot trust a dictionary for a correct translation. I am nearly three fourths scott but most of my family dont care about their ancesstery. Although i do have a friend who’s family all descends directly from ireland. i am not sure if im wanting a scottish translation if that would be the way to go.

    so if either or you could help it would be greatly appreciated.

  51. Actually that doesn’t mean “Drug Free” or “Free Drugs” it means “free Reluctance”! Drugall means reluctance or aversion to something. Drugail comes from this word

  52. Just an update. It’s been two years…and I still love it…faults and all. It’s comic relief and I believe that it shows that I don’t take myself all that seriously…

  53. Pingback: Ár n-athair atá ar neamh, is maith liom cáca milis « Apropos Nothing

  54. lol
    Truth is american and english speaking people tend to translate everything incorrectly due to there vernacular. Just watch subbed anime or anything in chinese because they don’t get it they never will.
    simple straightedge tattoo anti-cool or straightedge in another language.
    my favorite straightedge tattoo is my green purple and black barbed wire sleeves that connect to my Saint Jerome tattoo in olde english on my shoulders.
    or my antidrug tattoo which simply says “They Live To Die,
    I Live To Thrive”.
    fuck the inet wannabes that tattoo is awesome.
    and real straightedge folks never fly the coop aka break edge and sadly most people are on drugs so i debunk every 07-10 naysayer

  55. It is a shame that no one happened to come by to correct the Irish for this tattoo before it was actually inked on to the skin, and that the owner did not do her research well enough to ensure that the words were free of errors before having the tattoo done.

    However, now that that is beyond fixing, it is at least a good thing that she is happy with the tattoo, regardless of its semantic interpretation.

    As for the apostrophe, I simply saw that as a stylistic variant. Some typefaces are rather creative with the forms and positioning of their diacritics, and I figured this was just a typeface that had chosen to make the acute accent a bit more squiggly and placed it the same way an acute accent over a capital letter would be placed in Greek, for example.

    »Mo chomhghaelgóirí, ní chiallíon an focal “saor” “free” as Béarla i dtearmái eacnamaíochta. An phrása atá uaibh ná “saor in aisce”.«

    Ní ar chursaí eacnamaíochta a bhí mé féin ag smaointeamh ar scor ar bith; ach tá ciall eile ar fad le ‘drugáil saor’, ná ‘drugáil gan bhac’ nó ‘drugáil gan stró’: “tá tú saor le bheith ag drugáil leat mar is mian leat”. An dtig le drugáil a bheith saor in aisce ar aon nós? Is gníomh é, agus ní bhíonn praghas ar ghníomhartha de ghnáth.

    »Actually that doesn’t mean “Drug Free” or “Free Drugs” it means “free Reluctance”! Drugall means reluctance or aversion to something. Drugail comes from this word«

    What utter nonsense. ‘Drugall’ is a completely different word that is not in any way related to ‘drugáil’. ‘Drugáil’ is a loan word, taken from the English word ‘drug’, with the common ‘-áil’ ending used for verbal loans, while ‘drugall’ is just a dialectal form of what is more commonly ‘drogall’.

  56. Daiyne, fair play to you for wanting an Irish language tattoo and for sticking to your guns. As they say in Ireland “Feck the begrudgers!”

    If you are interested, the following might be a way of keeping the spirit of your original idea and making the Irish more grammatical:

    ⁊ SAOR


    That is, to DRUG’AIL add DO- with a hyphen, add a dot over the D, add a síneadh fada (an acute accent) over the A, and add TE to the end.

    The ⁊ in front of SAOR is not a seven, but an old sign for “and”. You could also use the word “IS” or “AGUS”.

    If you can’t erase the apostrophe, perhaps you can turn it into a little flower or a shamrock.

    Alternatively, you can come to Irish Translation Forum for more advice. It’s free. We are volunteers and often help people get their Irish right for their tattoos.

  57. What your tattoo means is ‘Free Drugging’. The proper translation for ‘drug free’ in Irish is ‘Saor ó Dhrugaí’ which literally translates as ‘free from drugs.’ What you have looks like something from Google translation. I am a fluent Irish speaker and also a translator. By the way I’m not trying to be critical. Just saying it as it is!

  58. free drugging? drugging freely? – my head hurts.
    Google Trainslate – FAIL! – me thinks.

  59. I am an Irish speaker and this tattoo is meaningless.

    Drug free as in ‘free from drugs’ is ‘Saor ó dhrugaí’.

  60. This tattoo will go down in “bad choice” history however, and it’s really important that we Irish speaking tattooed people emphasise this, this is *not* the tattoo parlour’s fault. It is the customer’s. They put on her back what she wanted.

  61. This tattoo is just so wrong it’s ridiculous.

    BTW, while “saor” does mean “free” in most contexts, when it modifies a noun it means “cheap” (it’s the opposite of “daor.”) So basically what this says is “Cheap drugging.”

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