Did you guys know that today’s the day of the aerosol can? Why today, you’re asking? Because exactly 90 years ago the aerosol can was invented. Since then we are – thanks to a Norwegian professional chemical engineer named Erik Rotheim – able to put spray into an aerosol can. So technically we owe Mr. Rotheim a lot. For example that riding the tube on a summer afternoon is bearable – because yes, it could be worse. Another thing we owe him is that our world is much more colorful – because colors in aerosol cans are the basic tool for a graffiti artist.

You think graffiti is a pretty cool way to express yourself – but unfortunately you’re not at all talented? No problem, we’ve got a solution – a compromise one might say. To honor the inventor of the aerosol can Erik Rotheim and other street artists, today we going to teach you a few graffiti terms so you can at least sound like one of them. You’re ready for your 101 lesson in graffiti slang? Here we go.

First of all you need to know, that as a graffiti artist you don’t have a name or a signature anymore – you have a “tag”. And instead of writing your name, you tag. Sounds logical, doesn’t it? You probably know some tags – at least I’m pretty sure you have seen some around town. Did you ever take a walk through your town or ride the bus and saw some words or at least letters, which were sprayed onto walls, tunnels or electrical boxes that don’t make quite sense to you? See, these places and walls got tagged.

Cans for Life - Tags
Cans for Life – Two tags on a wall seen in Germany.

By the way, a true graffiti artist doesn’t speak of aerosol color cans if he’s describing his most important tool – for him it’s a “cannon”. The roots of this term go back to Brooklyn, New York, where the graffiti scene were started.

As in any other business, you make yourself unpopular if you’re behaving like a copycat. Except graffiti artists have a special name for copying (of course – probably because it’s too lame to use words, which are already common and known). In this context to bite means to copy another artist’s artwork or steal another one’s name, style or color scheme.  

Don't be a copy cat – don't bite.

Did you ever hop onto a train, which was painted all over? This train got “bombed”. If a graffiti artist says that he’s going to bomb something, he will try to paint as much space as possible – without looking at the quality of his work. Here quantity counts over quality (proof of that are a lot of trains around the whole world). In the case of the full covered train you could be also speaking of a “whole train”.

The worst enemy of a graffiti spray is someone who has the mission to clean up the artwork – or, to speak in graffiti tongue “to buff it”. What stays there, after the paint has successfully been buffed – the obstinately remains – is called ghost. (Yes, as in the movie with Demi Moore, whose love for Patrick Swayze was so strong and pure, that it lasted even beyond death. See, reading this blog article gives you – besides cool knowledge around graffiti slang – nice recommendations for your Saturday evening. Although you might want to grab a big bowl of ice cream when you realize how old this movie is.)

Further on you need to know, that someone who’s just writing with aerosol canned color is called a “writer”. (Yes, this one is especially creative.)

To be clear it isn’t cool to destroy someone else’s property by painting it all over – even if it’s for art’s sake. But if you’re a really talented graffiti artist (or at least are on your way to becoming one) feel free to contact you town’s administration with a cool idea for street art. I’m sure you’ll find a way to realize your plan.

Cans for Life - Graffiti in Germany
Cans for Life – An example of permitted graffiti is this house settled in Düsseldorf, called “Bunker”.

One of the world’s most famous graffiti artists is Banksy, an unidentified street artist, who is also known to be a political activist and film director. His real name is assumed to be Rob, Robin or Robert Banks, but nobody knows for sure. At least his books were published under this alias.

You might know some of his work, for example “Girl With a Balloon” or “Rage the Flower Thrower”. They are known all over the world.

How did you like our little excursion into the world of graffiti artists? Which word will you integrate in your daily life? We hope you’ve learned something new. If you’re interested in further information we recommend this article.

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