By Jerry Martin
A tattoo is a permanent marking made by inserting ink into the layers of skin
to change the pigment for decorative or other reasons. Tattoos on humans are
a type of decorative body modification, while tattoos on animals are most
commonly used for identification or branding.
Tattooing has been practiced worldwide. The Ainu, the indigenous people of
Japan, traditionally wore facial tattoos. Today one can find Berbers of
Tamazgha and Maori of New Zealand with facial tattoos. Tattooing was
widespread among Polynesian peoples and among certain tribal groups in the
Philippines, Borneo, Mentawai Islands, Africa, North America, South America,
Mesoamerica, Europe, Japan, Cambodia, New Zealand and Micronesia. Despite
some taboos surrounding tattooing, the art continues to be popular in many
parts of the world.
The origin of the word "tattoo" cannot be confirmed for certain but a
borrowing from the Polynesian most likely Tongan, Samoan or Tahitian word
tatau, "correct or workmanlike." It also signifies the correct quadrangular
figures in reference to the fact that Samoan tattoo designs do not include
circular lines, although other Polynesian tattoo motifs do. The first
syllable "ta", meaning "hand", is repeated twice as an onomatopoeic reference
to the repetitive nature of the action, and the final syllable "U" translates
to "color". The instrument used to pierce the skin in
Polynesian tattooing is called a hahau, the syllable "ha" meaning to "strike
The OED gives the etymology of tattoo as "In 18th c. tattaow, tattow. From
Polynesian (Tahitian, Samoan, Tongan, etc.) tatau. In Marquesan, tatu."
Englishmen mispronounced the word tatau and borrowed it into popular usage as
tattoo. Sailors on the voyage later introduced both the word and reintroduced
the concept of tattooing to Europe.]
In Japanese the most common word used for traditional designs is, "Horimono".
The traditional Japanese hand method is called, "Tebori".
The word, "Irezumi," simply means, "insertion of ink," and could mean tattoos
using Tebori, or Western style machine, (or for that matter, any method of
tattooing using insertion of ink).
Japanese may use the word, "Tattoo," to mean non-Japanese styles of tattooing.
Tattoo enthusiasts may refer to tattoos as, "Tats," "Ink," "Art," or, "Work,"
and to tattooists as, "Artists". The latter usage is gaining greater support,
with mainstream art galleries holding exhibitions of both traditional and
custom tattoo designs. Copyrighted tattoo designs that are mass-produced to
tattoo artists are known as flash, a notable instance of industrial design.
Flash sheets are prominently displayed in many tattoo parlors for the purpose
of providing both inspiration and ready-made tattoo images to customers. For more information visit http://www.crazy-tattoo-designs.com