What does take imprints mean in the following passage taken from CNN?

People who approach the Wall have been known to break down in tears. They touch the engraved names delicately, as if the letters are inscribed with an electric charge. Many take imprints; others leave flowers and mementos.

Does it mean to make a copy of the imprints and then take it away?

3 Answers 3


The verb take is being used in the same way that one takes a photo:

  • To obtain by deriving from a source
    1. to obtain as the result of a special procedure : ascertain (take the temperature)(take a census)
    2. to get in or as if in writing (take notes) (take an inventory)
    3. to get by drawing or painting or by photography (take a snapshot)
    4. to get by transference from one surface to another (take a proof) (take fingerprints)

That is, the visitors are making imprints of the names in the Wall. This can be done by putting a piece of paper against the wall, and shading the name with crayon or pencil. Visitors would then take them away, but that is not stated by your quote.


Taking an imprint is using a way of recording something physical on a single piece of paper. If you take an imprint of fingerprints, you dip them in ink and then press the fingertips against paper, leaving an imprint of the fingerprints on the paper.

In this case, they push the paper up against the wall and either press down on it so that the names are weakly left in the paper, or "sketch" on the paper the places where the paper is pushed in.

I suspect that this practice isn't all too common, and has just been used for emotional impact in the news story.


I think they're using the wrong word here. They don't mean imprints; they mean rubbings (I've never heard these called imprints before, and I suspect the reporter may not have heard of this practice before seeing it at the Wall.) What you do is take a sheet of paper, lay it against the wall, and run a pencil or charcoal lightly over it. This produces a fairly good copy of the inscription. See this Wikipedia entry, which even mentions the Vietnam Memorial.

  • When I check British against American usage for take an imprint and take a rubbing, it seems only Americans ever use imprint, though they do also use rubbing. I think Brits normally use rubbing for the specific context here, and impression for other related situations. But it looks as though some Americans just use imprint for all contexts. Sep 4, 2011 at 14:29
  • @FumbleFingers: looking at the results, nearly all the instances of "take an imprint" were talking about teeth, footprints, credit cards, memories, carbon paper, keys, bones. I was able to find a few sites that used "imprint" in this sense, but "rubbing of a tombstone" gets 84 hits in Google search, whereas "imprint of a tombstone" gets none. The people who actually make a hobby of this call them "rubbings". Sep 4, 2011 at 14:42
  • Yes, I'm sure even in the US practising hobbyists call them rubbings. But I can imagine that some of those who only ever did one at the Wall might [mistakenly] use the same word they're familiar with in respect of the embossed numbers we used to have on credit cards before magnetic swipestripe readers became standard. In a few years, doubtless someone will ask here why US traders used to "take an imprint" of your card (in the UK I think it's always been "swipe your card"). Sep 4, 2011 at 15:48
  • ...Googling the Net for "imprint of an engraving" gives the grand total of TWO hits, and "imprint of a tombstone" gives none at all. I think we can be quite confident the first sentence of your answer is spot on! :) Sep 4, 2011 at 15:54

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