Body piercing has gone from obscure to mainstream in the past couple of decades. Nose rings that would have stopped traffic in the 1980's are commonplace today. Despite its popularity, body piercing and tattooing are still very foreign to most people. Piercing professionals in particular use medical terms to describe body parts that most people are just not familiar with. If you're considering getting a body part pierced in the near future, here are some commonly used terms you'll want to know.
Barbell - A piece of jewelry that consists of a shaft with two balls on either end.
Cartilage - The hard tissue which comprises most of the ear and nose.
Dermal - This term covers anything related to the skin.
Gage - The unit of measurement used to describe the size of various pieces of body jewelry such as barbells.
Helix - The fold at the top of the ear. It's one of several spots on the ear that can be pierced.
Labret - A piece of piercing jewelry that consists of a shaft with a flat end and a spike on the other end. This type of jewelry is used for piercings on the chin and mouth. Labrets are used in places where a barbell is not feasible.
Monroe - A piercing that is placed just to the side of upper lip so that it resembles a beauty mark.
Septum - The part of the nose that sits in between the nostrils, separating the nose into two different cavities.
Tragus - The small piece of cartilage that sticks out of the middle of your ear.
Since ancient times, men and women have pierced their ears, noses and other body parts. Research suggests that these early dermal piercings were often done for cultural, as well as aesthetic reasons. Unfortunately, it can be hard for researchers to ascertain exactly how or why these early people chose to pierce themselves.
The Aztecs strung barbells and rings through the surface of their tongues, for instance, for religious reasons. The Egyptians often pierced their belly buttons and navels with elaborate studs and bits of jewelry. And many African tribespeople wore nose rings, lip rings, and labrets.
Even genital piercing has been popular in certain societies for centuries. Throughout most of history, men and women have been piercing their flesh with sterile needles and other sharp objects. They have also been tattooing their body parts for just as long.
It can sometimes be hard to tell why these early humans chose to put barbells and piercings through their body parts. Some scholars suggest that the pain of piercing ear cartilage or septum tissue or the skin above the eyebrow was meant to be symbolically significant. Other scholars suggest that early humans chose to tunnel through their flesh for more aesthetic reasons. After all, they say, a tragus, monroe, or helix piercing can certainly be aesthetically pleasing. Other scholars are of the opinion that certain groups of people chose to pierce themselves for cultural and religious reasons, while other groups of people chose to pierce themselves for artistic and expressive reasons. This last explanation is perhaps the most compelling.