Follow TV Tropes


Knuckle Tattoos

Go To

"Ah, little lad, you're staring at my fingers. Would you like me to tell you the little story of right-hand/left-hand? The story of good and evil? H-A-T-E! It was with this left hand that old brother Cain struck the blow that laid his brother low. L-O-V-E! You see these fingers, dear hearts? These fingers has veins that run straight to the soul of man. The right hand, friends, the hand of love. Now watch, and I'll show you the story of life. Those fingers, dear hearts, is always a-warring and a-tugging, one agin t'other. Now watch 'em! Old brother left hand, left hand he's a fighting, and it looks like love's a goner. But wait a minute! Hot dog, love's a winning! Yessirree! It's love that's won, and old left hand hate is down for the count!"

Fingers. You've got four on each hand, plus thumbs. And the knuckles make a pretty good place to leave a tattoo. Ideally, a four-letter word. Maybe a second one on the other hand.

Typical to the Tattooed Crook, as tattoos are an Evolving Trope, and simple shoulder tattoos have gone mainstream.

Compare Good Scars, Evil Scars.

And no, a tattoo of Knuckles doesn't count (unless it's on the literal knuckles).


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • DEVILMAN crybaby has the rapper Kukun sport the word "butterfly" on his knuckles (thus making his nickname, which sounds like "cocoon", a Punny Name). the shot of his severed hand sporting part of the tattoo confirms that he was killed offscreen.
  • Trafalgar Law in One Piece has "DETH" tattooed on his left hand knuckles. Later, it is changed to match what the anime had.
    • In the anime it was changed to say "DEATH", and now includes his thumb.

    Comic Books 
  • Dawn of X, Marauders; Captain Kate, aka The Red Queen, has "H-O-L-D F-A-S-T" tattooed on her knuckles, tying in with her pirate asthetic. The "O" in "HOLD" has an X in it, matching the X-Men logo. After being killed by Sebastian Shaw and resurrected she changes this to " K-I-L-L S-H-A-W".
  • When The Punisher was infiltrating a criminal organization during Matt Fraction's run, he had "STAY" and "DOWN" tattooed on his fingers. Fitting.
  • Claude from The Umbrella Academy has "HELLO" and "GOODBYE" tattooed across the palms of his hands, concept art shows him with them across his knuckles.

    Film — Animated 

    Film — Live Action 
  • The A-Team has B.A. sporting the words "Pity" and "Fool" on his knuckles.
  • In Black Widow (2021), Red Guardian has many tattoos from his time spent in prison, including KARL MARX across his knuckles.
  • The Blues Brothers each have their names on their knuckles. Elwood's name actually spills onto his other hand.
  • Chef (2014): The protagonist, eponymous Chef Carl Casper, has tattoos on his forearms and knuckles. The latter read EL JEFE (The Chef in Spanish), which is, while accurate for his job, ironic as he doesn't speak Spanish.
  • In Cloud Atlas, London Gangster Dermot Hoggins has FOCK tattooed on one hand.
  • One of the bank robbers who's part of the human antagonists in Crocodile 2: Death Swamp has the words LEFT and RITE tattooed on his knuckles.
  • Not exactly tattoos, but in Do the Right Thing, Radio Raheem has the four-fingered ring version of the knuckle tattoo. He evens says the page quote in one scene.
  • Dwalin in the film adaptation of The Hobbit has the runes for the traditional dwarf Battle Cry tattooed across his knuckles: "Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu!"note 
  • Old Joe Plaice from Master and Commander has "Hold Fast" tattooed on his knuckles. This is a tattoo that was common on sailing ships in the old days. So hooray for Truth in Television.
  • The Trope Maker, Trope Codifier, and probably Ur-Example (in media at least) is, of course, Robert Mitchum's character in The Night of the Hunter, who has "Love" and "Hate", and most examples since are Shout Outs.
  • Brazilian movie O Candidato Honesto 2 has a case where the thumbs are also used, as the main character, a politician who goes through a makeover in prison, tattoos "DEMOC" and "RACIA" ("Democracy" in Portuguese). Once he's released and allowed to run for president, his advisors ask him to cover the knuckles up lest the religious supporters are repelled by the demonic imagery that "DEMO" brings up.
  • Paddington 2 has them sported by grumpy convict chef Knuckles McGinty. Or NUCK EL'S, as the tattoos spell it. Knuckles also made the mistake of getting the first part on his left hand, instead of his right, so he has to cross his arms to make it as legible as it is.
  • In The Place Beyond the Pines, Ryan Gosling's character 'Handsome' Luke has H-A-N-D tattooed onto the knuckles of his right hand and S-O-M-E on the left.
  • Eddie (Meat Loaf) in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, although it looks like he just wrote it on in pen.
  • In The Silence of the Lambs, Buffalo Bill homages Night Of The Hunter with the word "Love" tattooed on his left hand, not on the knuckles but on the space between his thumb and forefinger.
  • The skinheads in This Is England, or at least the nationalist faction, have crosses tattooed on their left middle finger knuckles. In one scene, the leader of the gang gives Shaun one with a safety pin.

  • The Areas of My Expertise: Seen in this fan illustration of one of John Hodgman's 700 hobos.
  • In Discworld,
    • One of Cohen's barbarian horde in Interesting Times has "Hate" tattooed on both knuckles.
    • Harry King in Making Money has gold rings spelling his name, in the spirit of this trope. In case you wondered, yes, that's nine letters; he's missing one finger. They also function as very expensive brass knuckles; many a business rival has been found with Harry's name embossed backwards on their forehead.
  • One of the bikers in Good Omens is mentioned to have 'Love' and 'Hate' tattooed on their knuckles. Another has 'Fish' and 'Chip'.
  • In the Johnny Maxwell Trilogy, Bigmac has "LOVE" and "HAT" (the "E" keeps rubbing off) written on his knuckles in biro. Yup, Terry Pratchett loves this trope.
  • A twist on this in The Late Show, when a bad guy doesn't have tattoos on his actual knuckles, but has "GOOD" and "EVIL" on the brass knuckles he uses to beat people with. Detective Renee Ballard uses the imprints of letters on a victim's body to tie the bad guy to the crime.
  • One of the bullies in the first Molly Moon book has KING GORD tattooed on his knuckles.
  • In Monster Hunter Vendetta, a truck driver that's an innocent victim of a monster rampage has "LOVE" and "HATE" tattooed on his knuckles. Later, Agent Franks is seen with "HATE" on the knuckles of his left hand. The arm and its attached hand was taken from the dead trucker, Franks replacing a limb lost earlier in the chapter.
  • In the comic neo-noir Mr Blank, the two mechanics with the Flock of Seagulls hairdos outside the Brotherhood of Sisterhood both have tattoos across their knuckles. One reads "GOOD FISH." The other is never revealed.
  • The Outsider (2018): The titular creature is a shapechanger who takes on the form of someone whose blood it has sampled. It eventually takes the form of an ex-con who has "CANT" [sic] and "MUST" on his knuckles. For the con, they're a reminder of his pledge to stay clean. For the Outsider, they become ways to intimidate and manipulate people, especially the person who eventually becomes its accomplice in trying to kill its pursuers.
  • In the Spitting Image book, the (then still living) Queen Mother has GIN& on the knuckles of one hand and TONIC on the other.

    Live Action Television 
  • The ads for Ace of Cakes feature Duff baring knuckle tattoos of "BAKE" "CAKE", but he revealed that they're not only fake, but they had to use a hand model because his own knuckles were too hairy.
  • In The Adventures of Pete & Pete episode "Field of Pete", coach Ed Narrins has "Just" and "Win" written on his knuckles.
  • Best Friends Whenever: Jen, an old classmate of Cyd and Shelby, has the word "whatever" tattooed on her knuckles. It turns out to be a temporary tattoo which gives to children in the orphanage and it means that she will do whatever it takes for the kids.
  • The Witchsmeller Pousuivant in Blackadder has GOOD and EVIL on his knuckles.
  • Gates from Black Sails has, among other tattoos "HOLD FAST" inked across his knuckles.
  • In the Doctor Who episode "Asylum Of the Daleks", Amy has "Love" and "Hate" on her knuckles for a photo shoot.
  • In The League of Gentlemen, the town vicar gets these tattoos around the beginning of the second season.
  • Charlie in Lost writes various things on his knuckle bandages, such as "FATE".
  • Stella Carlin in Orange Is the New Black has "JUST LOVE" on her knuckles.
  • In a dream Jerry has on Seinfeld, Uncle Leo was in prison and had "JERRY HELLO" tattooed across his knuckles. It Makes Sense in Context.
  • Vince on Sons of Guns has "LIVE FREE" prominently displayed on his knuckles.
  • Jerri Blank of Strangers with Candy has "HARD" and "LUCK." According to Amy Sedaris, for some episodes the L was changed to an F.
  • In The X-Files episode "Beyond the Sea" Luther Lee Boggs who is a psychic Serial Killer and mass murderer on Death Row has KISS and KILL Knuckle Tattoos.

  • Dallas Green, of Alexisonfire and City and Colour fame, has "True Love" tattooed on his knuckles.
  • Several members of Avenged Sevenfold have this. Synyster Gates has Marlboro, Zacky Vengeance has Cali4nia, and Johnny Christ has Beer and Wine.
  • Oli Sykes, frontman of Bring Me the Horizon, has "Drop Dead" (also the name of his clothing line) tattooed across his knuckles.
  • BTS Jung Kook has the letter J and a tiny crown tattooed on his knuckles.
  • From the Nick Cave song "The Mercy Seat:" "Like my good hand I/tattooed EVIL across its brothers fist."
  • The Chumbawamba album Swingin' With Raymond is named after a man called Raymond with "LOVE" tattooed on one hand and "HATE" on the other.
    • The album is split down the middle: the first half ("love it!") being love songs, and the second ("hate it!") being closer to their angry punk roots.
  • "Death or Glory" by The Clash has a probable Shout-Out in "Love 'n' hate tattooed across the knuckles of his hands/ Hands that slap his kids around 'cuz they don't understand."
  • Diamanda Galás has "We Are All HIV+" tattooed on the knuckles of one hand.
  • Charlie Scene and Danny of Hollywood Undead both have tattoos on their knuckles. Charlie has the name of his parents on his knuckles, while Danny has “Dear god” on his knuckles.
  • Frank Iero of My Chemical Romance has HALLOWEEN tattooed across his knuckles (the double L being on one finger), representing the day he was born.
  • Ozzy Osbourne has "OZZY" written on his left knuckles. He did them in jail with shoe polish.
  • Tony Perry of Pierce the Veil has "Star Wars" tattooed on his knuckles and "JEDI SITH" below them.
  • The cover art of The Pogues' album Peace and Love features a man with those very words across his knuckles. Both words fit by virtue of him having six fingers on his right hand.
  • Josh Homme, lead singer of "Queens of the Stone Age" has the name of his grandparents, Cap and Cam, tattooed on his knuckles.
  • Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers has the word "LOVE" etched onto his right hand. This is referenced in the song "Charlie", off of the album Stadium Arcadium.
  • Brazilian musician Tico Santa Cruz has his Stage Name on his knuckles - "TICO" in one hand, "STA †" (in English, would be "Holy Cross") in the other.
  • The cover of Slade's record "Slayed" features the band members with the band's name written on their knuckles. Because "Slade" has five letters and there are only four knuckles, they had to put one letter on their thumbs.
  • In Sufjan Stevens' Silver & Gold: Songs for Christmas box set, there's a recurring picture of two fists with "LOVE" and "DEATH" tattooed on the knuckles. (The "DEATH" hand has six fingers.)
  • Parodied to the extreme with the music video of the song "Pork and Beans" by Weezer wherein at one point in the video several lines of lyrics are written all over one of the band members hands and flashed in time with the lyrics. That's a pastiche of Daft Hands, a viral video where the same thing was done with "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" by Daft Punk.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • CM Punk has "Drug Free" tattooed across his knuckles, as he is Straight Edge.
  • Sterling James Keenan (AKA Corey Graves in WWE developmental FCW) has "Stay Down" tattooed across his knuckles. I wonder if he ever asked anybody if they want to buy a vowel...
  • Kevin Steen has the initials of both his grandfathers tattooed on his left hand knuckles.
  • Aleister Black has "Anti Hero" tattooed across his knuckles.

    Puppet Shows 
  • In a parody of The Walking Dead shown as part of The Muppets Take the Bowl and The Muppets Take the O2 ("The Walking Bread"), the Swedish Chef wears leather fingerless gloves with "BØRK BØRK" written on them.

  • Parodied with an old The Now Show promotional image: reading left to right, we have written on the fists "THE", "NOW" and "SHOW"; then the last hand is opened up, with "BBC Radio 4 (92.4-94.6 MHz FM)" on the palm.

    Video Games 
  • The Battle For Wesnoth gives us the Dwarven Ulfserker and Berseker, whose unit portraits have a very impressive set of vaguely tribal-looking tattoos that are actually Futhark runes. Guess what they have written on their knuckles?
  • Salvador in Borderlands2 has RITE tattooed on his right index finger and WRONG on the left.
  • "Love and Hate" is a unique set of spiked brass knuckles in Fallout: New Vegas made to resemble the Trope Codifier from the page image.
  • One baddie in the FMV game based on Johnny Mnemonic had GAME OVER tattooed on his knuckles.
  • Jack in Mass Effect 2 has "DEATH" tattooed on the knuckles and thumb of her right hand. The tattoos can be seen during the conclusion of Jack's loyalty mission, when the camera cuts to a close-up of her fiddling with the detonator in agitation, showing her hands clearly.
  • Sort-of, but one finger: On the cover of Mercenaries 2: World In Flames, if you look closely enough, Mattias has P-A-Y tattooed(carved?) on his middle finger, though it's never used.
  • Roadhog from Overwatch wears a set of rings on his left hand that spell "LEFT".

  • The Adventures of Dr. McNinja: King Radical, a mafia boss, has "MOST RAD." tattooed across his knuckles. Yes, including the period. Turns out later there's a magical power that bestows these tattoos to "the most radical man in Radical Land" to mark its ruler.
  • Discussed in a Dinosaur Comics strip. T-rex discusses various things one could get tattooed on one's knuckles, such as "MAKE OUTS" or "VOTE 4ME". His plans are foiled by the realization that as a T-rex he has only two knuckles on each hand, leaving only "PO OP" as an option.
  • Parodied in a Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic, with "LOVE HATS".
  • In Wasted Talent strip, in a Bait-and-Switch situation, a huge intimidating-looking dude has a "DROP DEAD" written all over his knuckles. When he shows his fingers, it's shows the rest of the tattoo with "GORGEOUS" written under it alongside his long manicured nails.

    Web Original 
  • Wooley/Matt has the traditional "Love" and "Hate" tattoos in an episode of Fighterpedia about grappling in fighting games, but they're fake.
  • Homestar Runner: In the Strong Bad Email "car", Strong Bad writes "Deleted" on his knuckles, but he writes it backwards, so that when he punches Homestar, the ink will come off and leave a big "Deleted" on Homestar's face.

    Web Video 
  • "The Adventures of Darrington Brigade" one-shot in Critical Role sees Ashley Johnson's character, Damian Vadoma, as part of her Tattooed Crook shtick, have tattoos on her knuckles that say "Vita" and "Mors" (Latin for "Life" and "Death" respectively).
  • Dimension 20: During some downtime after discovering he has become the Vox Phantasma, Pete gets knuckle tattoos of FANT-ASMA. Neither the player nor character realized they'd misspelled it until later.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • This website demonstrated just how much this is Truth in Television
  • Parodied in one design by Toy Machine skateboards had cartoon knuckles with the company name tattooed on them. First hand had three fingers, the second seven.
  • Kat Von D, tattoo artist, and cast member of Miami Ink had various logos tattooed on her knuckles, as probably many other of the artists and customers on the show. Also, the shop owners' bar LOVE HATE seems to be a reference to the classical knuckle tattoos.
  • Trace Cyrus has STAY GOLD, as a possible Shout-Out to The Outsiders.
  • Basketball player Chris "Birdman" Andersen has "SCREW YOU" across his knuckles.
  • Rapper Astronautalis got the word "DANG" tattooed on the knuckles of his right hand, calling them "the job killer."
  • Adult film star Mason Moore has "WHO'S NEXT" on her knuckles.
  • Davis Grubb, who wrote the original novel of The Night of The Hunter, really did encounter a man with LOVE and HATE tattoos at a West Virginia bar in the late 1930s. He was so creeped out he left immediately but the memory stuck in his mind and he realized it was perfect for his preacher character.
  • A common British choice for this is "ACAB", an acronym for All Coppers Are Bastards.
  • Ozzy Osbourne has o-z-z-y tattooed on the backs of his fingers, tattoos he did himself in prison with graphite.
  • TV personality Steve-O of Jackass fame had "SHIT" and "FUCK" inked on his knuckles. They have since been removed.
  • Jeffrey Dean Morgan has "XOGV" (Hugs and kisses George Virginia, in honour of his daughter) across his right hand, and "Gusy" (His son Augustus' nickname) on his left.
  • During the age of Wooden Ships and Iron Men, it was common for sailors to have "HOLD FAST" tattooed on their knuckles, as a kind of good luck charm for giving them a firm grip on the rigging.