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The word “pencil” came from Latin word small penis meaning “small penis”

11/09/2016

I sometimes wonder that I actually don’t know the real meaning of some of the simple things which we use every day. This thinking approached my mind when I came across a fact that said the word pencil meant a small penis in Latin. But after all, it always excites me to know the exact progress of a particular word from earlier times to now. That is the exact reason that why there is fun in going through word histories and knowing the meaning of the stuff which we take granted for.

A pencil has 600-year-old history of being mentioned as a tiny, fine-pointed brush used in the art work. It comes from penicillus, the miniscule form of the Latin term for tail, penis, and meant, plainly, ‘little tail.’ This similar Latin word provides us the word penicillin, from the brush-like shape of the Penicillium guide from which it produces. However modern pens substituted the quills until relatively lately the little ‘pencil’ brushes occurred side by side with what we now think of as pencils, and these were called “lead pencils.”

The lead in the pencil is actually graphite stone. In the 16th century, large deposits of graphite were discovered in England. From this graphite, a cost-effective way was developed for covering the graphite in wood and making the writing device which already existed for erstwhile. Graphite became the primary European source for pencils. If a pencil was denoted to as a ‘lead pencil’ in English, then surely the Japanese word enpitsu must be a straight conversion- “en (namari) ‘lead’ + hitsu (fude) ‘brush”.

Therefore, we have learned that pencils were actually referred to brushes, and the shape and meaning don’t essentially share their language origins. We can see now that the history of words has directed to more thought-provoking findings of the things we consented to.

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