Street art has gone mainstream, many street art terms find their root in the vernacular of graffiti culture. Graffiti and street art have their own specific language, with hundreds of words and phrases used to describe different styles and aspects of graffiti. You don’t need to know the lingo to appreciate a mural, but here are terms to know to have a bit of insight into street art culture. Some terms in use may differ in different area.
On a mission – going out to do graffiti.
All City – the state of being known for one’s graffiti throughout a city.
King – ‘King’ (or ‘queen’ for female writers) is a graffiti writer who is especially respected among other writers.
Angel– used when referring to a famous or highly respected graffiti artist who has passed away. Graffiti writers who admire ‘angels’ tag their names with floating halos.
Backjump – a quickly executed throw up or panel piece. Backjumps are usually painted on a temporarily parked train or a running bus.
Bite – to steal another artist’s ideas, name, lettering or color schemes. Seasoned artists will often complain about toys that bite their work.
Piece – The graffiti term ‘piece’, short of masterpiece, is used to describe a large, complex, time-consuming and labor-intensive graffiti painting, usually painted by skilled and experienced writers. One’s tag painted in large-scale lettering, typically multi-coloured.
Bomb – to bomb or hit is to paint many surfaces in an area.
Heaven Spot – ‘Heaven spot’, or ‘heaven’ in short, is a graffiti term which refers to daredevil graffiti pieces that are painted in places that are hard to reach, such as rooftops, overpasses and freeway signs, thus making them hard to remove. The term ‘heaven spot’ also encompasses a double meaning, as writing on dangerous locations may lead to accidents and result in artist’s death, thus going to heaven, or ‘hitting up the heavens’.
Dress-up – to completely write all over a specific area like a door-way, wall or window that is untouched.
Dropsy – a bribe.
A top to bottom is painted all the way to the top of the side of a train.
A wholecar covers the entire carriage of a train.
A married couple is two wholecars connected.
A wholetrain covers every carriage of an entire train from top to bottom and end to end.
A panel is a single piece painted up to the windows on the side of a train.
Toy – an inexperienced, incompetent artist.
- Domming – colour–mixing technique done by spraying one colour over another while it is still wet, then rubbing the two together. Sometimes an abrasive like sand is used to create different effects. The term is derived from “condom,” as a reference to its synonym rubber and is sometimes called fingering, as it is commonly done with one’s fingers.
Hot/bait – with a high risk of being caught.
Dogging – scrawling a tag or an insult over someone else’s piece on purpose.
Hall of fame – an area of wall space where graffiti is permitted.
Black Book – also called ‘piece book’, is a graffiti writers’ sketch book in which they draw and plan out potential graffiti works, but it can also be a book featuring a collection of tags written by other graffiti writers. Graffiti writers use their black books to perfect their style and save their ideas for possible later execution in public spaces.
Dub – a simpler version, usually painted in just two colours, most commonly silver and black.
Throw-up – Throw-up’ or ‘throwie’ is a widely referenced graffiti term, anything from just one to a few letters very quickly executed and usually consisting of artist’s name and only two colors.
Crew – 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.
- Buff – to remove painted graffiti with chemicals and other instruments, or to paint over it with a flat color.
- DIS – to insult. Comes from “disrespect”.
- Spot Jocking – when someone puts up work next to a popular artist because it will gain them attention.
- Burn – to beat a competitor with a style. To rat out an accomplice or crime partner either intentionally or unintentionally.
Getting up – means an artist is consistently putting work up around the city. When one notices that an artist has an impressive amount of work running, they might say that the artist is “really up.”
Reverse Graffiti – the result of leaving a mark, tag, or image by selectively cleaning a surface rather than applying paint.
Shift – caught.
- Tag – an alias or nickname. The simplest, most basic form of graffiti. It is usually written with marker or spray paint and in one color, which is sharply contrasted with its background. Tag is a stylized personal signature and contains graffiti writer’s name, also known as a moniker.
- Burner – a large, more elaborate type of piece. The piece could be said to be “burning” out of the wall, billboard, or train-side.
Hat (honor-among-thieves) – a person who is described as wearing a “hat” is an artist who is considered trustworthy in the graffiti community. A person who knows a lot of information about other artists but does not spread such knowledge to the authorities. “Don’t worry about him, he wears a dope hat”
Spun – raided.
- Burning – any work having not been removed.
Slam – to paint an extremely conspicuous or dangerous location.
- Cannon(s) – slang term for spray paint cans. This term is thought to originate in Brooklyn, New York.
- Cap – the nozzle for the aerosol paint can, also referred to as Tips. Different kinds are used for styles. It also means crossing out or in any other way ruin a piece made by others. Derived from a writer named “Cap” who was infamous for making throw-ups over others’ pieces.
Punition – a form of graffiti that consists of repeating the same word endlessly covering a whole surface.
Yard – train depot.
Back To Back – This refers to graffiti that is painted all the way across a wall, from end to end. ‘Back to back’ is the graffiti term also widely used to describe ‘throw-up’ graffiti that are painted one after another.
Writer – a practitioner of writing, a graffiti artist.
An End to End, often abbreviated as ‘e2e covers the entire length of a train carriage, no higher than the windows. ‘End to end’ graffiti were used to be called ‘window-downs’, but this is an older expression that is fading from popularity.
FullMonty – a graffiti form that takes up the entire canvas, wall or area that can be vulgar yet has a very effective message.
New graffiti terms discovery will be updated as they come. Know the Lingo, Know the Art.