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February 2014

A Short History of Tattoo

Author Affiliations
  • 1Fondazione IRCCS Ca’ Granda, Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico, University of Milan, Milan, Italy
JAMA Dermatol. 2014;150(2):145. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2013.8860

Tattoo is a permanent pigmentation of the skin resulting from the introduction of exogenous substances. If this happens unintentionally—for example, after road injuries—it is called traumatic tattoo. However, the most common tattoos are decorative, related to current fashion or to a symbolic meaning.

The etymological origin of the word tattoo is believed to have 2 major derivations: the first is from the Polynesian word “ta” which means “striking something,” and the second is the Tahitian word “tatau” which means “to mark something.” This word was introduced in Europe by the English explorer James Cook, who described the Polynesian technique of “tattaw” in his narrative of the voyage.

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