1 : a rapid rhythmic rapping
2 a : a call sounded shortly before taps as notice to go to quarters
b : outdoor military exercise given by troops as evening entertainment
The impatient man began beating a tattoo with his fingers on the countertop.
"As tennis fans, we spend our time watching the players' hands. But the professionals will tell you that matches are more often won with the feet, and this was the greatest contrast yesterday. Murray's size 12s tapped out a rapid tattoo on the turf … as he ran down countless lost causes." — Simon Briggs, The Daily Telegraph (London), 9 July 2016
Did You Know?
Today's word has nothing to do with skin markings. That other tattoo comes from the Tahitian word tatau. Today's tattoo comes from the Dutch colloquialism "tap toe," which can be translated as "turn off the tap," though it was most often used to mean something like "Shut up! Cease!" The Dutch began using the word taptoe for a drum beat, and then English speakers borrowed the term (changing it slightly, to taptoo and, eventually, to tattoo). It was used especially by the military to name a drum beat (or possibly a bugle call) that signaled the day's end. This taptoo most likely led to our taps, a term for the final bugle call at night in the military.
Test Your Vocabulary with M-W Quizzes
Test Your Vocabulary
Fill in the blanks to complete the name for a bugle call signaling the first military formation of the day: re _ e _ l _ e.VIEW THE ANSWER
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