Textual Tattoos

Textual tattooEver since I saw Dominic Monaghan’s bicep, I’ve been interested in word and phrase tattoos. That is, tattoos comprised mostly or entirely of English words and sentences.

I don’t have tattoos. I do think that getting a word or phrase takes more courage than getting a bird, maple leaf or kanji character. A hummingbird can represent love or speed or freedom or whatever, but “Yo Mamma” on your inner thigh is far less ambiguous.

I went looking for a site dedicated to textual tattoos. My 40 second search came up empty, so I turned to Flickr. After the jump, you can see my growing list of word and phrase tattoos. If you’ve got one, know of such a repository, spotted a photo of one on the Web or otherwise have something to contribute, leave a comment or email me at darren at darrenbarefoot fullstop com. I’m not interested in Asian characters–there’s a great blog for them already.

I think my favourite, in terms of a selection of text, is the line from Milan Kundera. It’s a lovely sentiment and esoteric. Having collected these, I’ve realized an advantage of getting a textual tattoo–you can improve your odds of having a truly unique piece of body art.

Donna, who has a Gaelic word tattooed on her back, points to a photo gallery I couldn’t find. You can look at the first 150 images for free–apparently people are willing to pay for photos of tattoos.

Via RaeA, this guy tattooed a radio station’s top songs on his butt (only in Australia). I don’t think I’d want the phrase “Smells like Teen Spirit” anywhere near my posterior.

Jo writes with this impressive, lengthy textual tattoo, which reads: “There are two sorts of curiosity — the momentary and the permanent. The momentary is concerned with the odd appearance on the surface of things. The permanent is attracted by the amazing and consecutive life that flows on beneath the surface of things.–Robert Lynd”.

Kymberlie writes with this tattoo, that quotes a poem by Rilke: “and in the ponds broken off from the sky, my feeling sinks as if standing on fishes”.

Here’s a nice message on somebody’s arm: “Believe in forgiveness”.

Jacky sends this quote which in English means “what nourishes me, destroys me”. It looks like that might have been a bit ticklish.

Caitlin sent along this shot of her back, which is another example of that Ghandi quote:

Another Textual Tattoo

Andrew writes with this simple message on his forearm:

Freedom Tattoo

Another photo:


  1. A friend in Saskatoon has many textual tattoos, including the word tolerate on one arm. I will take a pic when I go home.

  2. shelley jackson, even though it’s funnier to think that shirley jackson might have done that project…

  3. see this–an interesting “art” project wherein the author of a short story solicited individuals to have single words tattooed on their bodies to make up the story. This is not the link I originally saw about this project, but a quick search with the names in the article will probably link you to the whole thing.

  4. darren, my sister (the taker of the kundera tattoo photo) passed me along this link. the subject is my wife–i’ll pass along the compliments. she’ll be happy.

    a good friend of mine has a quote on his chest, written backwards so he reads it every morning in the mirror. i can’t remember the exact wording, but i’ll see if i can get a photo.

    1. hey ive been wanting to get a kundera quote on me. which one is your wife? i realize his is an old post but maybe….

  5. Gah. Anyway, my point was that if you search for the main words without quotes, you’ll find that the quote is from the Buddha.

  6. Thanks for link to the photo of my friend’s E to the X neck tattoo. You have a great blog here! I love the compilation of photos that you have pulled together. I’ll need more time to sort through it all.

  7. I’ve got Lucky on one wrist and Devil on the other, as well as Revelation written around my collar bone. I think that’s as far as I’ll go with textual tattoos.

    Only Lucky is on flickr, right now.

  8. me

    mid page, me at left with one of my permanent text additions. it reads “poindexter”, which is my last name. i also have a partial quote from an e.e. cummings on my back “not for philosophy does this rose give a damn.” letters really are beautiful.

  9. hi, i wanted to get a tatoo of something that meant something to me. so i decided to get a tattoo of the meaning of my name- Victory Of The People. i was wondering if you could email me some different cool way to tattoo it thx.

  10. hey, i want to get a textual tattoo of the phrase “Life ain’t always beautiful” but in italian so “La vita non e sempre bella” with a small heart next to it, will it look best in regular cursive or something else? Thanks for the help

  11. I’ve got a similar facination, but it is for the knuckle tattoos. So many combinations and possibilities you can get with up to eight letters (or in rare cases a few more). Check out my site, I think you will like it…


  12. Here is an ambigram. I had it done on my rib-cage going from below my armpit to my hip. One way says family, and the other way says forever. It took me four years to find a tat that I wanted until I saw this one and right then and there had it done. 4 hours but definitely worth it

  13. In less than 24 hours, I’m getting the word “karma” tattooed on the side of my neck. I don’t see “karma” the way the western world has come to view it (if you do a bad deed, some bad thing will come to hit you in the head because of it). Instead, I believe that karma is the sum of all your actions, and your actions make up who you are. Creating good energy is key.

    Hopefully I don’t chicken out! 🙂

  14. “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”

  15. I have “Life’s too short to worry” and “Life’s too long to wait” on my wrists. It’s from Todd Snider’s Ballad of the Devil’s Backbone Tavern.

  16. I have ‘Don’t it make you sad to know that life; is more than who you are’ tattooed on my right hip.

    about to get 3 more textual tattoos.. i’ll add them to the list once they are done

  17. I have CRY
    on my wrist in tribute to the good ole Johnny Cash. I have a star below my neck, and I either want the Shakespeare quote “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny, but in ourselves” around it… Or “Ad Astra Per Aspera” (latiin for ‘ a rough road leads to the stars’) in the star i already have…any suggestions??

  18. Hey,

    I wanna put this quote by David Whyte on my stomach…”anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you”…i dont want it that big..and in pretty plain font..but do u have any ideas?

    1. i instanty saw this and it brought tears to my eyes, thank you so much!! I was going to get ” Nothing forced or misunderstood can ever be beautiful ” but its so long!! Thanks to you i have found my second candidate 😉

  19. i realy want a short simple quote on the back of my neck but not one that is too deep if you know what i mean..

    what do you think of “Take me as I am…”

  20. I got a tattoo on my left shoulderblade that says “her value far above rubies and pearls”.
    i got it because my heart is on my left, and because it is the slogan for mercy ministries; an organisation that deals with abused women.
    i was abused so it has an immense amount of meaninf for me.

    i have been wanting to tell someone, anyone, why i got it… but no-one knows i was abused.
    so thank you, for listening.

    1. dont hide what hapened to you…be proud that it is something you have overcome and keep your head up high…it is the ones who did it who should hide there shame…yuo shouldt have too….

  21. I am thinking about getting a first tattoo – “i send this smile over to you” from Disarm, Smashing Pumpkins. Starting underneath heart on chest then wrapping around to the back so you can’t read the whole quote from any one side. The quote has a number of meanings to me personally. I haven’t quite decided yet – just thought i’d share.

  22. There is an entire book devoted to the art of textual tattoos called Body Type, Intimate Messages Etched In Flesh by Ina Saltz. Check it out.

  23. i’m glad i found this website beacuse recently got a tribal cross on my right side shoulder and left it empty inside beacuse i want to put something that really means something u know …i have no idea what it is yet but your site is really helping decide thx men

  24. Pingback: Literary Tattoos
  25. hey chandler

    i like your idea for the latin tattoo – i was actually going to get it myself, however i did some research and spoke to a latin prof and have since found that it would be more correct to have “per ardua ad astra” – through adversity to the stars, rather than the aspera version….just to let you know 🙂

    1. Ardua = Steep

      Aspera = Rough

      So, “Per Aspera Ad Astra” would be more correct.

      It’s actually the motto to many Air Force’s around the world including the British Royal Air Force.

      I hope that didn’t burst your bubble if you already got the tattoo.

  26. the “every being is the author of his own health or disease” is a quote from buddha

  27. 45 from carly says she has the whitman quote “and your very flesh shall be a great poem”.

    I’ve been wanting to get that on my foot for soooooo long. im shocked to hear it someone has it. Pictures please…if you ever read this =)

  28. Pingback: Literary Tattoos
  29. i have the irish gaelic word “dobhriste” inside my wrist which means unbreakable. also “is onorai poll na paiste” on the back of my neck which means “the hole is more honorable than a patch”

  30. I have the spanish phrase “Por Algo Sera” tattooed on my side. Although not the literal translation, it’s basically the equivalent of saying “Everything happens for a reason.”

    Por Algo Sera

  31. I have the words “I Miss You” in really pretty font tattooed on the back of my neck for a friend that passed on 🙂

  32. I was thinking about “hear angel trumpets and devil trombones” from A Clockwork Orange

  33. With the same sword they knight you,
    they gon’ good night you with
    Shit, that’s only half if they like you
    That ain’t even the half what they might do
    Don’t believe me, ask Michael
    See Lucas? See Puda? See Martin? See Malcolm?
    See Biggie? See Pac? See success and its outcome
    See Jesus, see Judas
    See Caesar, see Brutus, see success is like suicide
    Suicide, it’s a suicide
    If you succeed, prepare to be crucified.
    Is to have had and lost
    Better than not having at all?

  34. “every being is the author of his own health or disease”. ~ while misquoted, is generally attributed to Buddha. The actual quote is “Every human being is the author of his own health or disease,” and Google’s quite well.

  35. I have two textual tattoos. The first is on the top of my right foot and says “I know I haven’t changed, but I know I’m not the same.” The second is on my left ankle and says “Alive or just breathing.”

  36. I want to get the old irish blessing tattooed on my back/shoulder.

    May the road rise to meet you
    May the wind be always at your back
    May the sunshine warm upon your face
    May the rain fall soft upon your fields

    1. I have the words ‘i’d defy gravity’ on my left forearm.
      it’s from the song Back to You by Something For Kate and the lyric is ‘i defy gravity just to get myself back to you’. It doesn’t refer to anyone i know, it’s just the concept of being so passionate about someone you’d do the impossible to be with them.

  37. My friend brittany has one on her foot that says “walking with the wounded”

    i think third eye blind lyrics…not 100% sure though!

  38. i have eros tattooed on my inner hip, im a guy, and it means sexual desire, and is the greek god of cupid. love. it is a text but also a tramp stamp

  39. Hey, Darren. I’d love to tattoo the lyrics to Solisbury Hill on my back but it’ kind of long, and I’m a wimp. May just settle for “scars are souveniers you never lose, the past is never far.”

  40. I’m having a tattoo done in greek .. κάνω όχι κοιτάζω πλάτη μέσα θυμός .. which translates to dont look back in anger. I’m not sure where abouts to have it though, any suggestions??

    1. Have someone who knows how to speak Greek well help you translate that phrase better,because although the words are a direct translation there is a more proper way to say that phrase.

    2. It’s not right the translation. In greek you must write ”μην γυριζεις πίσω στον θυμό”
      I’m greek, if you need something just ask..

  41. i want “perfectus tantum in suus trunco”, on my hip. Small, about 8cm long, In garamond or some font like that, On my hip.
    Its latin for “perfect only in her imperfections”.

  42. I’m going to get one on my neck, just below my hairline that will read “…if more people were screaming then I could relax…” It’s from an Ani DiFranco song called My IQ http://www.sing365.com/music/lyric.nsf/My-IQ-lyrics-Ani-DiFranco/5DAC755B1C56547F48256F7800091AF0

    It’ about my dedication to working in Human Rights and a committment to living my life in action for people everywhere. The whole song has always been my own little manifesto for myself.

  43. the one you couldnt find:

    “every being is the author of his own health or disease”

    is from buddha


  44. I’m planning to get “To the Phoenix and the Dove, co-supremes and stars of love.” tattooed on my back. Its a line from an untitled Shakespearean piece. I have to wait 4 more months though, until I’m eighteen.

  45. im putting “alis volat propris” on my foot. its latin. it means: she flies with her own wings

  46. I have “Stronger than you think I am” around my right ankle. It’s my favourite tattoo because it’s my inspiration to push myself harder and a daily reminder that whatever life throws at me, I can handle it. I placed it so that “Stronger” is on the inside of my ankle, the word that I see most easily.

    It’s originally from a song by Rachel Ferguson.

  47. I have Resist much Obey little on the inside of my left wrist. I want another text tattoo but haven’t come across anything that really speaks to me yet.

  48. Any good ideas for a memorial text tattoo. I’m thinking i should get a poem, or bible verse going down my forearm. ideas ?

  49. Getting my first tattoo day after tomorrow. Lyric from the song “You’ve got to learn” and the lyric is “At times your head must rule your heart” Im getting it right below my collarbone. it was a song that was redone by Nina Simone, my favorite artist. I grew up listening to her and I think it’s a important lesson to learn.

  50. I had the word “compassion” written in Sanskrit tattooed on my forearm after someone very close to me passed away. He used to always tell me, “Not only must you have compassion for others but you must also have compassion for yourself.” Every time I look at my arm I am reminded of how lucky I am to have had this person in my life. I will be forever grateful.

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