The terms tattoo sleeve, full sleeve, half sleeve, etc. are generic terms given to tattoo designs covering the arm or leg in a close-knit pattern resembling that of a sleeve. The validity of this term is occasionally brought into question but has gained wider acceptance over the years, especially since the dawn of the internet age. “Full sleeve” is just a tad bit catcher and descriptive than searching the web for “full arm piece tattoos.” Most contemporary artists have accepted the term and regularly use it.
I look at him, sitting there, my 21-year-old son. I feel I’m being interviewed for a job I don’t even want. I say, “But you’re not. You’re different. I will never look at you in the same way again. It’s a visceral feeling. Maybe because I’m your mother. All those years of looking after your body – taking you to the dentist and making you drink milk and worrying about green leafy vegetables and sunscreen and cancer from mobile phones. And then you let some stranger inject ink under your skin. To me, it seems like self-mutilation. If you’d lost your arm in a car accident, I would have understood. I would have done everything to make you feel better. But this – this is desecration. And I hate it.”
Regardless, if you are going to start with a single tattoo, in any location, be sure to tell your artist that your eventual end goal is a full sleeve. “She or he can leave the piece in a way that it can be added to in time,” Gualteros says. “Basically, to get the best result for this, you should ask for flow.” (That’s tattoo-artist speak for “something that will flow nicely with other designs”.)
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.