Practitioners admit it hurts like hell and speech is initially difficult, but claim that the surprise factor of sticking out their tongues at unwary persons is worth the effort.
For those seeking out cool tattoos getting the tongue tattooed might be too much. Circus carny and graphic designer Curtis McMurty is the person credited with developing a specially patented Tongue-Dyed Tattoo? technology.
And McMurty's innovation doesn't stop with the visual. He claims the new technique has the same durability as any regular tattoo, but has the added aspect of eliciting a specific taste to go with the design. "They come in chocolate, vanilla and garlic. If you really want to shock a person's sensibilities, go for the garlic - you won't be disappointed."
"I've always been unique. My friends say I'm 'touched.' Now I'm twice as unique!" - Egrett Emry, tongue tattooer
The first person to have the procedure done was Egrett Emry, who has a depiction of vomit it was a toss-up between that and an "Eat Me" graphic). Emry's roommate acknowledged that Emry's first week after getting it done has been "a real tongue twister. He really sucks at taking phone messages."
Emry later noted in an email interview that, "I've always been unique. My friends say I'm 'touched.' Now I'm twice as unique. If scientists could grow another tongue on me through stem cells, I'd totally tattoo that one, too. Hey, I'm a no-hold-the-bar kinda risk-taking guy."
Emry added that so far all food tastes like burnt flesh. "Don't get me wrong, I've never actually tasted burnt flesh, but I think we all agree on what we think it must taste like, you know?"
About two dozen Californians have supposedly received tongue tattoos at McMurty's parlor in East L. A. In terms of safety, initial research shows that it's no more harmful than swallowing small droplets of mercury.
And in terms of imagery, well, the sky's the limit. McMurty was contacted recently by some Portland, Ore., teenagers who want to tattoo the Nike corporate swoosh on their tongues, "to speak out about the omnipresence of corporate greed."
"It can certainly be shocking," admitted Emry, describing how he surprised his dentist when he went in for a routine check-up. "The poor guy said, 'Open up.' So I did - and I swear he fell over backwards when I stuck it out at him. I guess the general public will find this sort of thing hard to swallow."