Slang City Mail

Click here get this free weekly newsletter delivered to your e-mailbox! Want to see more? Go back to All the Words main page.

September 11, 2003

Slang of the Week: sleeve (noun)
A tattoo that covers the arm (though like a shirt, it can also be half or three-quarters length)

Everyone was shocked when Jack took off his jacket at the Vegetarian Times annual employee tofu cookout, revealing a sleeve of steaks and sausages.

Celebrity quote:
"Of course I never got a tattoo in my life. When I was younger I either wanted a complete round circle right here on my arm, or I wanted just a sleeve. Isn't that insane? Like black or brown skin, or like wood grain or leopard print. Wouldn't that be great?"
-Singer Cat Power

Once little known outside the tattoo world, this word has found its way into rock vocabulary because of the popularity of sleeves among musicians. It’s become typical enough, in fact, that when Colin Farrell made a bid to play rocker Ozzy Osbourne in his movie biography, one insider supported the move by saying “Colin drinks, he smokes, he womanizes. He's just a sleeve tattoo away from being a real rock star.”

Unbelievably, here in Massachusetts, tattooing was illegal until 2001. Of course, before that, people just went over the border to get them in New Hampshire, the same place we still go to get illegal fireworks for the Fourth of July. But since then, tattoo parlors have sprung up all over the state and thousands have gone to get inked (tattooed) at them.

Other typical tattoo words include the obvious tat (tattoo), and gun, but tattoo artist Erick Lynch of Redemption Tattoo in Cambridge assures me that real professionals call it a tattoo machine - so beware of the shop that offers to shoot you!

For illustrations of some truly spectacular tattoo sleeves, check out Redemption Tattoo’s website at

What’s new at Slang City?
More tattoos and tattoo language! "I'm fit to be dyed. Am I fit to have you?" From RED DRAGON TATTOO, that's the question Fountains of Wayne is asking in MUSIC.