or tear drop tattoo [teer-drop ta-too]
What does teardrop tattoo mean?
A teardrop tattoo is a small tattoo in the shape of a teardrop near one or both eyes. It is closely associated with gang and prison culture, where it often indicates one has served time, one has been humiliated, or one has killed. Others may get such a tattoo to represent sorrow or loss.
Where does teardrop tattoo come from?
While the practice is almost certainly older, written evidence for teardrop tattoo comes in the 1970s, noted in a New Yorker article about a Mexican gang member who spent time in prison.
Perhaps not unlike a battle scar, some prisoners drew on the symbolism of a teardrop (grief, pain, sorrow) by getting a small tattoo by the corner of their eyes to show they’ve been incarcerated—and warrant fear and respect for it.
The symbolism of the teardrop tattoo widely varies, however. In some instances, it’s said a dominant inmate forces the tattoo on a submissive one after being extorted, abused, or raped—a form of public humiliation. In other instances, wearers use the teardrop tattoo to indicate how many people they’ve killed. This tattoo often appears under the left eye. Notable wearers are said to include 2015 convicted felon Jeremy Meeks, who went viral for an attractive mugshot.
Because of its negative associations in mainstream culture, the tattoo has proven problematic for some. In a 2004 court case the defendant, a 17-year- old boy, was found guilty of manslaughter and firearm offenses, prompting a 25-year prison sentence. He and his lawyer filed for an ultimately unsuccessful appeal, arguing that he should’ve been able to wear makeup to his trial to cover up his teardrop tattoo, avoiding the assumptions that often come with it. Various services provide removal of the teardrop tattoo, among others, for former gang members and inmates.
The teardrop tattoo, often under the right eye, may also signal sad sentiments more generally. This can include gang members commemorating a fallen friend or a spouse showing solidarity for a significant other in prison. However, this application is by no means limited to gang or prison culture. Johnny Depp wears a teardrop tattoo as a melancholy heartthrob in the 1990 film Cry-Baby for his ability to shed a single tear at will. In the 2000s, the late Amy Winehouse got a teardrop tattoo as did rapper Lil Wayne in 2012 to express personal distress or loss.
Examples of teardrop tattoo
Who uses teardrop tattoo?
Due to its associations with bad boys and sad boys, the teardrop tattoo is sometimes an object of admiration—or source of humor.
Some days I just want to get a teardrop tattoo to look rebellious. Today is one of those days 🤷🏽♂️
— Cam (@__camye__) August 15, 2018
*sierra kills a bee in her room*
“Well, time to get my first teardrop tattoo”
— Lauren (@lauuren_raay) August 18, 2018
Getting a teardrop tattoo on my face because she fed me hotdogs for dinner. pic.twitter.com/jdpqCdl5zA
— Max Wedge (@Max_Wedge) July 30, 2018
The gang and criminal associations of the teardrop tattoo make it sometimes referenced as an object of fear—perhaps as originally intended.
I got a flat tire on the interstate and now I’m sitting in a sketchy Burger King where there’s a guy who has a teardrop tattoo on his face, waiting for my employer to pick me up. Wonderful start to the week
— Jacque Platt (@jacque_platt) August 6, 2018
Maybe I'm odd but i find a steroid pumped skinhead with a teardrop tattoo swigging larger shouting insults at random people in a city center far more scary than a Muslim woman in dress.
— Halksmush Number Two (@JurgenKloppDog) August 8, 2018
Some take it upon themselves to warn others of those negative connotations of the teardrop tattoo.
make sure you don't have a teardrop tattoo
— michira (@michirahime) June 5, 2017
Teardrop tattoo… think twice before getting this done 😂 pic.twitter.com/ine71Z3osn
— ✨YAMI✨ (@Yami_g1) August 11, 2018
Risks aside, many find the morose meanings of the teardrop tattoo an attractive look. Search “#teardroptattoo” on Instagram, for instance, and you’ll see wearers posting their finest selfies.
This is not meant to be a formal definition of teardrop tattoo like most terms we define on Dictionary.com, but is rather an informal word summary that hopefully touches upon the key aspects of the meaning and usage of teardrop tattoo that will help our users expand their word mastery.