Word of the Day


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1. a permanent picture that is drawn on a part of your body by putting ink into your skin with a needle
2. a military event where soldiers march and perform to music
a. a signal that tells soldiers to return to their buildings at night, played on a drum or a bugle

Origin and usage

Tattoo is a word with more than one origin, depending on its usage.

In reference to a permanent design on the skin, tattoo comes from the Polynesian words ‘tatau’ or ‘tatu’ meaning ‘mark made on the skin’. It first appeared in English in 1769.

When used to describe a military event, the word tattoo is derived from the Dutch word ‘taptoe’ meaning ‘shut the tap’ (of a cask). It dates back to the 1680s, when it was common for officials to visit taverns after dark to shut off the ale taps so patrons would know it was time to go home.


The word tattoo most often refers to a permanent design put into the skin using special tools and ink.

People have marked their bodies with tattoos for thousands of years for protection, medicine, punishment, symbols of social status, signs of religious or spiritual beliefs, and as signs of love and devotion.

Scientists have found evidence of tattoos that are approximately 5,200 years old. The tattoo is a part of many ancient cultures, including Egyptian, African, Asian, Greek, Roman, South American, North American, Japanese and Polynesian.

While many cultures still perform ancient tattoo methods, using little more than a long stick, a sharp needle and ink to mark the skin, the development of modern technology has raised tattoo design to a highly-prized art form. Today’s tattoo artists typically spend years perfecting their skills, using a variety of motorized needles and brightly coloured inks.

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

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