The Words: A Graffiti Glossary
also in Japanese! and a new one: グラフィティ用語解説 translated by Takuya Hiramoto

Slapped together by Chad with help from Schmoo. Thanks to RaskeL & Celtic (for info on homemades and Griffin shoe dye), Eros (for old-skool NYC/subway info) and Subway Art by Henry Chalfant for basic info and references. Note that this list is quite dated and somewhat NYC-centric. So terms in use in your area may well be different. A newer glossary has been compiled by 149th Street.

"And the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls"--Simon and GarFUNKel, The Sounds of Silence

An effort has been made to keep to some of the history of each word, its origins and its current application to graffiti culture.

What a writer is considered to be when he/she is "up", but this term implies more status than being just "up". Many people can be "up", but only a select few could be considered "all city". Can also refer to a crew instead of just one writer.

Refers to the "old days", old school, or when a writer first started writing. Also a hip-hop/rap term.

Originated on the subways out of neccessity. Backgrounds were used to make the piece stand out from all the tags and assorted scribbling on a subway car that make the piece hard to discern; the color or design painted behind the piece to make it stand out from the wall or train.

A wall that is pieced from end to end all the way across. Also can refer to throwups that are one after another.

This is done when two writers or two crews have some sort of disagreement. The battle can take two forms: skills battle or getting up - essentially quality vs. quantity. A skills battle is when two writers piece a wall within a certain time period (usually a day or a few hours) and whoever does the best piece is the winner. A getting-up battle is when the writers take a certain area of a city and whichever crew can get up the most in that area within a certain amount of time (say a week to a month), wins. For both kinds of battle, an outside crew or writer judges who is the winner. The terms of losing and winning are usually negotiated by the crews involved and can be payment in paint, pot, a sock in the jaw, the losing crew has to stop writing their name, etc., etc.

To copy another writer's style. This is considered a no-no and is looked down upon, even though writers often borrow imagery from cartoons and comics.

Big, square letters, often tilted back and forth and in (usually) two colors. Mainly invented to cover over other people and to paint whole trains easily, but they are effective on smaller walls for maximum coverage. Blade and Comet claim to have invented these.

Train line in NY that had only ridgys and ding-dongs (except for the As and Cs.)

Prolific painting or marking with ink. To cover an area with your tag, throwups, etc.

To go out writing.

A type of graffiti letters, usually considered to be an older (and sometimes outmoded) style. Often used for throwup letters because of their rounded shape, which allows for quick formation. Phase2 originally created this style.

Any means employed by the transit authority to remove graffiti from trains. The more modern usage is when any graffiti is gone over or removed from any surface, not necessarily just from trains.

to erase, erased.

To beat the competition with your style. Also refers to a really good piece, as in one that "burns".

Originally a well-done wildstyle window-down whole car, a burner is a very good piece. Obviously, the reference to a window-down car is not applicable for pieces that are not on trains. A burner is any piece that has good bright colors, good style (often in wildstyle) and seems to "burn" off of the wall.

CAP, FAT or SKINNY (tips)
Interchangable spray-can nozzles fitted to the can to vary the width of spray. These are usually racked off of commercial products, such as K-Mart's Bug and Tar, various cleaning products or starches. Many stores and graffiti fanzines sell caps nowadays. Also referred to as "tips" (as in "flare tips" and "thin tips".) The really big fat caps are sometimes called "softballs" because of the wide and soft-looking spray they produce. Tips are sometimes referred to by a certain number of fingers, corresponding to the width of the spray (for example, a "four-finger spray" would be about as wide as your hand. The number on the front of a tip is the catalog number for that model.

A cartoon figure (usually, but not necessarily) taken from comic books, TV or popular culture to add humor or emphasis to a piece. In some pieces, the character takes the place of a letter in the word.

A type of grease pencil used by artists to mark up contact sheets of photos or the photos themselves for cropping. They come in red and blue, and were adopted by writers for tagging because of the grease base. China markers are not very big, only as big as a crayon, but will write on almost anything.

Stylistic form applied to pieces. The use of clouds is not as freqent now as it was in the early days of subway car painting. See "background".

A certain style of wildstyle that looks digital or bitmapped, as if it came out of a computer.

It means crazy in the dictionary definition but can also mean "really" as in "crazy big".

A loosely organized group of writers who also tag the crew initials along with their name. Crew names are usually three letters, many times ending with "K", which stands for "kings" or "kills" in most cases. Some crew names are just two letters, some are four, it all depends.

Chicago Transit Authority.

A way to cut standard tips, thus modifying them into fat caps or flare tips.

A painting technique used on inside fills of letters and characters to get thin lines, thinner than thin tips.

To insult. Comes from "disrespect". Originally it was just a hip-hop/rap term but has found its way into the culture at large. Hey, even my mom says it! See "front".

Really good, (derived from "death"). In its day it had as much use in the hip-hop scene as in the graffiti scene. Not in use as much anymore, in some circles its use is considered downright cheesy. I'm all for bringing it back.

Relatively new stainless type of subway car, so named for the bell that rings just before the doors close. Ding-dongs were preferred because they were so flat. They were a quick buff so no one did any full-scale pieces on ding-dongs.

Originally a rap/hip-hop term that means "cool".

To be in with, part of the group or action (as in "he's down with us"). Part of your connection, if you are down with someone.

Stylized drips drawn onto letters to add effect. Although inept paint application causing unintentional drips is considered the mark of a toy and is wack, stylized drips drawn on letters are acceptable. This style originated early on in New York subway graffiti.

To blend/blended colors.

What a writer gets when he/she is constantly and consistently getting up. One of the goals of writers is to have fame within the subculture of writers, and some, like Chaka, aim to have fame (or at least be recognized) outside of the subculture.

A fan magazine devoted to a narrow interest. Often shortened to "zine" In the graff scene, fanzines would obviously be devoted to writing, featuring photos of pieces, etc. The first graffiti fanzine was "International Graffiti Times" started by Phase 2. Nowadays there are many fanzines such as Can Control, Skills, Crazy Kings, and many others.

A newer type of stock tip on spraypaint cans (used to be only on cheaper brands but almost every company, including Krylon, now sport these on at least one line of their paint) which sprays in a fan pattern that can be adjusted from vertical to horizontal, but is useless for tagging because it looks wack. May be used for fills but the cheezy tips prevent any kind of detailed can control. The tip is not removable for insertion of fat caps.

Can refer to something being thick, as a "fat line", or can be a general term of good, like "yo, that's fat!" Often spelled "phat".

A new type of tip that is called "female" because the can has a "male" counterpart. Traditional cans are vice versa. These female tipped cans are no good for writers, except maybe for fills, but even that's questionable.

The solid interior color of letters on a piece or throwup.

Older slab-sided type of subway car; the most suitable surface for painting. This term refers mainly to subways, although it could refer to certain types of freight cars as well.

Prints of photos of graffiti. Also "flick" (singular) and "flix" (plural).

Cool, same as "fresh". Early hip-hop term.

New, cool, good. An early hip-hop term.

To hassle someone, to want to fight. For example, "You frontin' on me?" Also a hip-hop/rap term. Probably comes from "confront".

Originally, "getting up" meant to sucessfully hit a train. Now it means to hit up anything, anywhere, with any form of graffiti, from a tag all the way up to a wildstyle burner -- although the term implies the process of tagging repeatedly to spread your name. Tagging something once would be getting up, but would not make you an "up" writer.

One writer covering another writer's name with his/her own. Also known as "X-ing out" or "crossing out". "Crossing out" is usually just that, painting an X over another writers tag or piece. In the early days of New York graffiti, Cap was the master of doing black and white throwups to go over people. There was even a crew called TCO (the cross outs), whose main goal was to cross everyone out. See also "blockbuster letters".

See "china marker".

A type of shoe dye used in homemade markers.

A kind of purple ink used by grocery stores in their marking guns. Writers took this ink to put in their homemades and refillable markers. Writers from back in the day swear by it because of its permanence.

The culture in the late 70s and early 80s that spawned the graffiti culture as we know it now, breakdancing and hip-hop music, which has since turned into modern rap music.

To tag up any surface with paint or ink.

When something is covered with tags.

A type of homemade marker made out of old deodorant containers stuffed with socks or felt chalkboard erasers and filled with ink. Homemades have been made out of many things, including (most commonly) various deodorant containers all the way up to VHS videotapes. (!) Homemades have also been called "mean streaks," although this has no relation to the paint stick made by Sanford corporation.

A kind of homemade ink made for your homemade marker. The basic recipe involves shredding carbon paper and mixing it with alcohol and/or lighter fluid. Said to be almost as good as grocery store ink.

An old, discontinued Krylon color that is prized by writers when the odd can turns up.

Originally referred to tagging the insides of subway trains. Now refers to the insides of any mass transit vehicle. For example, "He's the king of insides" would mean he's really up on the insides.

A train line in NY that had many burners because its cars were all flats.

Another old, now discontinued Krylon color that writers go crazy over.

Same as "character".

To hit or bomb excessively. To really get up in a major way.

The best with the most. Some people refer to different writers as kings of different areas. King of throwups, king of style, king of a certain line, etc.

A brand of spraypaint, easily recognized by the distinctive 5-spot logo. Most favored by writers because of its large color selection and cheap price.

Side tracks where trains are parked overnight and on weekends. Initally used to refer to subway layups, but now can refer to freight-train layups.

Crazy, lots.

A type of fat marker used by writers, not refillable.

Standard black magic marker with a tip about a quarter-inch wide. Had its place in the early days of writing (early to mid 70s) but has been discarded in favor of bigger, better markers and spraypaint.

Two cars permanently attached, identified by their consecutive numbers. This is an older subway term from New York.

A type of paint stick made by the Sanford corporation. Writers like it because it is opaque, waterproof, and is generally a bitch to buff because the base solvent is ethyl glycol. Comes in white, blue, red and yellow. I've never seen black or green.

Metropolitan Transit Authority. (NYC)

A large-scale type of piecing, done top to bottom on a wall; usually a large production involving one or two pieces and usually some form of characters.

General term used to refer to the early days of writing, more specifically, the mid 70s to '82 or '83. Also may refer to hip-hop music of this period. Old-school writers are given respect for being there when it all started, and specific writers are remembered for creating specific styles. For example, Blade and Comet created blockbusters, Phase 2 created bubble letters, clouds, Skeme's "S", and so on.

The drawing done in a piecebook in preparation for doing the actual piece. Also called a sketch. Can also refer to the outline put on the wall and then filled, or the final outline done around the piece to finish it.

A painting below the windows and between the doors of a subway car.

A graffiti painting, short for masterpiece. It's generally agreed that a painting must have at least three colors to be considered a piece.

To paint graffiti, creating a piece, not just go out tagging.

A writer's sketchbook where outlines and ideas to be executed are kept and worked out. Also referred to as a "black book" or a "writer's bible".

A type of fat marker. Prized because it writes wider than a Marks-A-Lot and is made to be refilled.

Respect, comes from "proper respect". From hip-hop/rap.

To steal, usually paints or markers. In the past, most writers stole all materials used for painting. Due to paint lockups in California and other areas, this is no longer possible, so most paint is now bought.

Subway car with corrugated, stainless steel sides, unsuitable for graffiti. Writers did mainly two-color throwups and some top-to-bottom throwups (one color and silver because silver was hard to buff) on these types of cars. Ridgys ran in Brooklyn.

Tagging everyone's name in a crew, or the list of people who helped create it to the side of the piece. Not done very often - tagbangers seem to like doing this.

A favorite brand of spraypaint that was quite popular back in the day, but now has wack fan spray for tips.

A brand of spraypaint, generally more expensive than Krylon.

A tagging instrument, usually made out of a diamond drillbit, used to physically engrave one's name on buses and mass transit vehicles. Considered by some writers to be more destructive than is needed. Sandpaper is sometimes used to tag buses in the same manner--it too is considered mass destruction.

A certain type of throwup (usually two colors) that is filled very quickly with back-and-forth lines, rather than filled in solid.

A type of big marker made by Sakura which is a little bigger than a Pilot, and it too is easily refillable, although it does not state that on the outside. Sakura makes a model the same size called "Pentouch" which is a huge paint marker, complete with a mixing ball inside of it.

Shoe dye kits are used sometimes for tagging, especially those that consist of a bottle with a brush/sponge device attached. They usually come in black and white. See "Griffin".

A form of tagging, most commonly saying "Hello, my name is". Can be anything from computer-generated, clear, generic blank stickers that have the writer's name on them to elaborate stickers with little pieces and characters. Some writers consider stickers to be for people who are "afraid" to use markers/paint, while other writers use a combination of stickers with markers and paint.

The stock tip that comes with a can of spraypaint. So named because only suckers would piece or tag with said tip. That said, lots of old school kings used nothing but stock tips back in the day.

The most basic form of graffiti, a writer's signature with marker or spray paint. It is the writer's logo, his/her stylized personal signature. If a tag is long it is sometimes abbreviated to the first two letters or the first and last letter of the tag. Also may be ended with the suffixes "one", "ski", "rock", "em" and "er".

The act of writing a signature with marker or spraypaint.

As opposed to "writer"; this term is usually used to refer to those who only do tags and throwups and who never piece. Some taggers seem to like more destructive methods such as scribers and sandpaper in addition to markers and paint. Some taggers do get interested in piecing, some don't. Taggers who never piece are sometimes called "scribblers" by more experienced, piecing writers.

On New York subway lines, this is the extra rail that supplies the power for the trains. If you touch the 3rd rail, you will most likely die.

A three-dimensional style of letters, used for added effect on basic letters, sometimes applied to wildstyle for an extra level of complexity. This style was invented by Phase 2.

Over time, this term has been applied to many different types of graffiti. Subway art says it is "a name painted quickly with one layer of spray paint and an outline", although some consider a throwup to be bubble letters of any sort, not necessarily filled. Throwups can be from one or two letters to a whole word or a whole roll call of names. Often times throwups incorporate an exclamation mark after the word or letter. Throwups are generally only one or two colors, no more. Throwups are either quickly done bubble letters or very simple pieces using only two colors.

A piece that extends from the top of the car to the bottom, completely covering it. Can also refer to a wall or building that has been pieced from top to bottom. The first top-to-bottom car was done in 1975 by Hondo. Dead Leg did the first top to bottom with a cloud. Others who started rocking the style, and were known for the "T2B's" were Lee, Chain, the Fab5, and later, Newave crew.

An inexperienced or incompetent writer. Someone whose writing is either wack, who uses sucker tips, or whose style is just plain cheesy. One old definition of "TOYS" is that it stands for "trouble on your system".

A type of marker that is extra wide (about an inch and a half), intended for making posters, etc. It too is easily refillable. Often called "Uni-Wide", which is a brand name.

Describes a writer whose work appears regularly everywhere and who is currently writing.

Refers to people's tags, for example, "So and so's crew has mad ups on main street"

A paint preferred by taggers because it sticks to things better than glossy paints.

Substandard or incorrect (derived from "out of whack"). Anything that looks cheesy or weak. Badly formed letters, incompetent fills, dumb tags, etc.

No, it's not Jheri Curl, it's an old-school brand of spraypaint. No longer in production to my knowledge.

A complicated construction of interlocking letters. A hard style that consists of lots of arrows and connections. Wildstyle is considered one of the hardest styles to master and pieces done in wildstyle are often completely undecipherable to non-writers.

A piece done below the windows of a subway car.

In '83 they started running the white trains on the 6's. Writers loved these cars because they were like canvas all primed and ready to paint.

Obviously a piece covering a whole car. See "top to bottom". This one's by Futura 2000.

The masterful feat of covering a whole train with pieces. Two whole trains were done in 1976 by Caine I and two more were done by The Fabulous Five soon after.

Practitioner of the art of graffiti.

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