On Thursdays, we read reviews or news stories about art or design and study the language used in them. This week’s article is about a special style of black and gray tattoo art, and how it was started by an artist named Freddy Negrete.


Here are the first four paragraphs from National Public Radio, in italics.

Tattoos are no longer taboo. According to a Harris poll, about half of American Millennials say they have at least one, and so do a third of Gen Xers. Once you have one, data show, you’ll get more.

Today, an increasingly popular style of tattoo art is called black and gray. Black and gray used to be referred to as joint-style or prison-style, because of its roots in penal institutions, where inmates made homemade machines from ballpoint pens, guitar strings, needles, and parts from old boom boxes. The machines had one needle. No color ink was available in lock up, so the ink was black. But if you watered it down, it turned gray.

Rather than the thick black outlines and bright colors of traditional-style tattoos, black and gray tattoos have finer lines and subtle shading. These days, they’re so detailed, they look like hi-def black and white photos.

One of the people credited for mainstreaming black and gray style, is 61-year-old Freddy Negrete. He says it wouldn’t exist without “prison ingenuity.” And, he would know. Negrete’s been in and out of lock up since he was a teenager.

My comments:

In the first paragraph, we see the word taboo, which means something that you can’t talk about or do in some cultures. (For example, when I was a child, only motorcycle gang members and old military soldiers had tattoos. It was not ok for most people to have them, and I remember being a little nervous about getting my first one in college.) A Harris poll is a survey by the Harris market research company, and they measure public opinion about many topics. Millennials are people who were born between 1980-2000. Generation X (Gen Xers) are the people in the generation before Millenials, and they were born between 1960-1980.

In the second paragraph, we see the phrase increasingly popular which means becoming more popular. To be referred to means the same thing as to be called, so this style of tattoo was called joint-style or prison-style. (In American slang, prison is called “the joint.”) When we talk about the roots of something or someone, we mean their history so this style of tattoo came from prisons, also called penal institutions. Inmates are what we call the people in the prison, and we learn that they made their own tattoo machines from many strange objects. Homemade means something you make yourself, a ballpoint pen is a style of pen, and a boom box is a kind of radio/tape player/CD player that was popular in the 1980s because you could carry it around with you. To water something down is a phrasal verb that means to add water to it.

In the third paragraph, we see the phrase rather than which means instead of. (Also, hi-def is short for high-definition.) In the fourth paragraph, we’re introduced to Freddy Negrete who started this style of tattooing. The word credited means that you get noticed for doing something or people remember you for something, like an honor or recognition. We also see the phrase “prison ingenuity.” Ingenuity means skill or cleverness that allows someone to solve problems or invent things, so he’s saying that he had to be clever to invent this tattoo style while he was in prison and didn’t have real tools to use. Finally, we see the word lock up, which is another word for prison.

News and magazine articles that are written for native speakers of English can have a lot of slang or cultural references in them. A good language coach can explain the meaning of these phrases and help you learn to use them correctly. This kind of language can really help you to sound more fluent when you write or talk about your work with others.

At Artglish, we help artists and designers to describe their work with the best vocabulary and language possible. Every Thursday we study reviews and articles to share useful words and phrases to help you improve your reading and writing skills. If you want to learn more, click here to join The Studio and try some free ways to improve your English, or check out our Lessons page to learn how Artglish can help you succeed.

I’ve chosen 5 words or phrases for you to focus on today. They are in bold. If you don’t know them, look up the meaning, synonyms, antonyms, and other forms of these words. You can find links to Merriam-Webster dictionary sites at the bottom of this page.

To read the original article, written by Shereen Marisol Meraji on April 15, 2018, click the link below:

To see Freddy Negrete’s website, click the link below: