Tattoos And Their Original Meaning

Tattoos are a curious thing. Defined by Urban dictionary as a 'a permanent symbol of a temporary feeling' their meaning in recent years is a lot more vague then they used to be. College Times decided to leaf through the most popular tattoos to find their ultimate meaning.

1) Swallow

What it used to mean: A sailors way of symbolising their duty to return home to port. It also was thought that if the sailor drowns the swallow will carry his soul to heaven.

What it means now: You shop at Urban outfitters and drink soya macchiatos.

2) Anchor

What it used to mean: Another navy/sailor symbol this one used to symbolise the crossing of the equator.


What it means now: That you probably wear crop tops and too many bracelets.

3) Infinity Symbol

Nothing could be more obvious in terms of 'meaning'.

The infinity symbol is for the tumblr/pinterest generation who seek individuality on mass media platforms. Add the words 'love', 'life' or 'family' and swallows for extra girly points.


4) Tear Drop

Want to look like you're capable of murdering someone? I present to you the tear drop.

A teardrop below the eye could mean the wearer has killed someone - they are usually associated with death and prison. In gangland, an unfilled teardrop may signify the death of a friend, with the person shading it in when they have avenged their loss. They have been made popular by celebrities like the late Amy Winehouse or rappers such as Lil Wayne.

5) Spiders Web

Another prison tattoo that usually symbolises being caught.Its usually placed on your elbow to signify the time you will spend sitting with your arms on the table.


6) Skulls/ Day of the Dead

Representations of the Mexican Day of the Dead skulls are a way to honor loved ones who have passed. The sugar skulls have become popular motifs because of their colorful, artful designs, but also as they represent our mortality.


7) Chinese symbols


Boy oh boy. It's like a lucky dip of meaning and most symbols have very little meaning to actual Chinese people who laugh when they see you have "Please select from the tattoos below" tattooed in Chinese lettering on your calf. Be warned tattooing yourself in an language/culture you are unfamiliar could lead to numerous interpretations. This tattoo literally translates into 'Golden Pig'

8) Tribal tattoos

Tribal tattoos can symbolise hiararchy, role, and personality traits for the tribes from which they originate from. Polynesian tattoos from the Islands of Samoa, Hawaii, Tonga and Fiji are famed for their intricate tattoo design. However rumor has it that if you travel to these islands with the tribal tattoos of the natives you could be in danger of a beheading... No seriously- using ancient tribal art because you like the pretty pictures is against many tribal laws and is scene as a disrespect to their culture.

9) Musical symbols

What they used to mean: What ever note length/clef that you have randomly selected as a symbol to represent your love of music.

What they mean now: You probably have a soundcloud account and listen to Bon Iver more then the average person.

Therese Walsh
Article written by
Therese Walsh is a recent graduate of University College Dublin with the entirely employable degree of English and music. She enjoys the facts on the inside of snapple caps and writing mini biographies.

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