Man asks for Reddit's help covering up 'dumb' tattoo he got at 19, everyone begs him to keep it: 'A travesty'

A man’s attempt to crowdsource cover-up suggestions for a tattoo he got when he was 19 has spiraled into a meme of its own.

On May 17, a Reddit user, u/Lewbular, posted in the subreddit TattooDesigns in hopes of finally finding a horizontal design that would cover up a “dumb tattoo” he got above his knee. The tattoo in question, in simple sans-serif font, reads: “shrimps is bugs.”

Since then, the post itself has generated over 12,000 upvotes and 2,000 comments, but very few of them are legitimate suggestions for a cover-up. Instead, most people seem to be obsessed with the phrase itself.

One person asked if the decision to remove the tattoo had to do with a significant other hating it, to which u/Lewbular replied, “I’ve had two relationships since the tattoo and they both liked it.”

“I f****** love this tattoo,” one person wrote. “Shrimps is bugs.”

“This may be the best tattoo I’ve ever seen,” another added. “It would be a travesty to get it covered.”

What does ‘shrimps is bugs’ mean?

Truly, nothing.

One Redditor thought maybe it was a reference to the podcast “Hollywood Handbook,” where the hosts did a “shrimp-off” at a Red Lobster in Canoga Park, Calif., in 2018, and another episode they did on bugs. But u/Lewbular clarified that it was “a dumb inside joke” and that he got the tattoo before he’d heard of the podcast.

In reality, shrimps are not bugs but crustaceans. But that fact doesn’t seem to faze anyone on Reddit.

How did this post evolve into ‘shrimps is bugs’ merch?

While u/Lewbular was genuine in his request for suggestions to cover up the tattoo — his biggest regret not even being the phrase itself, but how big it is on his leg — Redditors were beyond thrilled by the nonsensical phrase.

The subreddit r/ShrimpsIsBugs was started on the same day as the post and already has 2,000 members. In it, people share their art honoring the phrase, as well as many, many photos of shrimp.

Within days, people started making merch with the phrase. There are now stickers, a coffee mug, shirts and, potentially, a $425 customized neon sign.

“I just love the idea that this guy got the funniest/greatest tattoo of all time, to the extent that he can’t even ask for advice on how to get rid of it b/c we all like it so much,” one Redditor declared. “Probably everybody whose ever seen it loves it except him. It’s like a Greek parable or something.”

Days later, when u/Lewbular discovered the subreddit dedicated to his tattoo, he wrote: “Alright fine I’ll keep it.”

How does a phrase this stupid become so big it gets its own subreddit and trends on Twitter?

There’s no concrete answer for why certain things go viral and why others don’t. But, according to a study on “meme magic,” it is often the visual elements of memes that play a role in their success.

Those elements involve eye-catching composition, having the subject depicted and the meme finding its target audience quickly. It helps if the tattoo is pretty simple and legible, but still makes your brain do a double-take. The study also found that memes that prioritize imagery rather than text are more likely to catch attention and spread among users, so the fact that u/Lewbular uploaded a photo rather than just writing it out probably boosted its virality.

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