Over time, tattoos have served purposes as varied as camouflaging hunters, marking victory in battle, memorializing the dead, telling the wearer’s life story, and symbolizing just how goddamn tough you are. “The tattoo is a form of non-verbal communication,” writes Schiffmacher, who has tattooed the likes of Kurt Cobain and Anthony Kiedis. “This is just as true for the so-called primitive cultures as it is for the supposedly civilized world.”
The word tattoo, or tattow in the 18th century, is a loanword from the Samoan word tatau, meaning "to strike". The Oxford English Dictionary gives the etymology of tattoo as "In 18th c. tattaow, tattow. From Polynesian (Samoan, Tahitian, Tongan, etc.) tatau. In Marquesan, tatu." Before the importation of the Polynesian word, the practice of tattooing had been described in the West as painting, scarring or staining.