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What Does Your Tattoo Mean, Anyway? Find Out with This Book

'The Tattoo Dictionary' unravels the meaning of over 200 of the most recycled tattoo symbols.
Illustration by Ashley Tyson. Images courtesy Octopus Publishing Group

If you’re thinking about getting new ink, it might serve you to look over this iconographic study of more than 200 of the most popular tattoos in history. From “sailors’ swallows and Mexican skulls to prisoners’ barbed wire and intricate Maori patterns,” The Tattoo Dictionary has it all. Written by international tattoo journalist and current editor of Tattoo Master, Trent Aitken-Smith, the book traces the cultural and historical implications of some of body art’s most-recognized symbols.


Illustration by Ashley Tyson

The book's particular selection of tattoos was made based on popularity, but also on their intrinsic relationships to the vocabulary of the tattoo world. Think of the book as your translator to the secret language of tattoos: tattooing is, after all, a millennias-old tradition that incorporates a wide range of cultural demographics. Aitken-Smith annotates the meaning of each illustration in an encyclopedic format, elaborating on its origins and any hidden messages there may be.

Illustration by Ashley Tyson

In a forward introduction, Aitken-Smith says he was originally inspired to write the book based on the amount of diversity in people’s reasons for getting a tattoo. “I have always found that the reasons behind a person getting a tattoo are as fascinating as the designs themselves…They contain symbolism and meaning beyond their simple visual exterior, whether they were intended to do so or not. They are external displays of internal beliefs.” For all these reasons, Aitken-Smith stresses the importance of knowing and understanding a tattoo before you get it done.

Illustration by Ashley Tyson

Illustration by Ashley Tyson

Want to know what the ink above means? Check out The Tattoo Dictionary, out now via the Octopus Publishing Group. For more information on the book, click here.


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