from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A signal sounded on a drum or bugle to summon soldiers or sailors to their quarters at night.
  • n. A display of military exercises offered as evening entertainment.
  • n. A continuous, even drumming or rapping.
  • intransitive v. To beat out an even rhythm, as with the fingers.
  • transitive v. To beat or tap rhythmically on; rap or drum on.
  • n. A permanent mark or design made on the skin by a process of pricking and ingraining an indelible pigment or by raising scars.
  • n. A design made on the skin with a temporary dye such as henna or ink.
  • transitive v. To mark (the skin) with a tattoo.
  • transitive v. To form (a tattoo) on the skin.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. An image made in the skin with ink and a needle.
  • n. A method of decorating the skin by inserting colored substances under the surface. The skin is punctured with a sharp instrument, which now is usually a solenoid-driven needle, that carries the inks to lower layers of the skin.
  • v. To apply a tattoo to (someone or something).
  • v. To hit the ball hard, as if to figuratively leave a tattoo on the ball.
  • n. A signal played five minutes before taps (lights out).
  • n. A signal by drum or bugle ordering soldiers to return to their quarters.
  • n. A military display or pageant.
  • n. A breed of pony from India; a pony of that breed.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. A beat of drum, or sound of a trumpet or bugle, at night, giving notice to soldiers to retreat, or to repair to their quarters in garrison, or to their tents in camp.
  • n. An indelible mark or figure made by puncturing the skin and introducing some pigment into the punctures; -- a mode of ornamentation practiced by various barbarous races, both in ancient and modern times, and also by some among civilized nations, especially by sailors.
  • transitive v. To color, as the flesh, by pricking in coloring matter, so as to form marks or figures which can not be washed out.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • To beat the tattoo; make a noise like that of the tattoo.
  • To mark, as the surface of the body, with indelible patterns produced by pricking the skin and inserting different pigments in the punctures.
  • n. In India, a native-bred pony or small horse. Also, by abbreviation, tat. See tat.
  • n. A beat of drum and bugle-call at night, giving notice to soldiers to repair to their quarters in garrison or to their tents in camp; in United States men-of-war, a bugle-call or beat of drum at 9 p. m.
  • n. A pattern, legend, or picture produced by tattooing: used also attributively: as, tattoo marks.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. a design on the skin made by tattooing
  • n. a drumbeat or bugle call that signals the military to return to their quarters
  • n. the practice of making a design on the skin by pricking and staining
  • v. stain (skin) with indelible color


Alteration of Dutch taptoe, tap-shut (closing time for taverns), tattoo : tap, spigot, tap (from Middle Dutch tappe) + toe, shut (from Middle Dutch; see de- in Indo-European roots).
Of Polynesian origin.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Samoan tatau ("to tap"). (Wiktionary)
From Dutch taptoe. (Wiktionary)
From Hindi tattū. (Wiktionary)



Log in or sign up to get involved in the conversation. It's quick and easy.

  • "Enjoy that tattooed sunrise over your ass crack, lady, because in 20 years' time it will look like an octopus chasing a starfish."
    - Robin Williams.

    March 20, 2013

  • "a mode of ornamentation practiced by various barbarous races, both in ancient and modern times..."

    December 14, 2012

  • Tattoo.

    September 30, 2009

  • Oops.

    November 19, 2008

  • "Tattooing, a cant term used by seamen.... The operation consists in first sketching out with Indian ink their names, &c. where they chuse (sic) to be marked; then with needles, or some pointed instrument, they prick the skin through the lines; this being done, they rub into the holes some fine-grained gunpowder, which can never be extracted.

    "This practice, borrowed from the Indians is generally encouraged, and has frequently led to the discovery of British seamen and soldiers who have deserted, and who, much to their disgrace, have sometimes been found in the service of hostile nations."
    Falconer's New Universal Dictionary of the Marine (1816), p. 700

    October 10, 2008

  • In the 17th and 18th centuries, a tattoo was the military command to publicans serving troops to close the beer taps so that the soldiers or sailors could return to their quarters. Allegedly its origins are from the Dutch doe den tap toe. As commands were routinely (in this time period) transmitted to troops via musicians (usually fifers and drummers), "Tattoo" can also designate a specific piece of music used to relay the command.

    As well as designating this design I got inked into my arm. (It was not a flying-D or any other logo.)

    October 9, 2008

  • "For three years, Goodyear's Dunlop tyre unit has offered a set of free tyres to anyone who will get the company's flying-D logo tattooed somewhere on their body, and 98 people have taken up the offer." - 'Tattoos A Sign Of Advertising Status', The Age online, 5 Dec 2007.

    December 4, 2007