AskDefine | Define pen

Dictionary Definition



1 a writing implement with a point from which ink flows
2 an enclosure for confining livestock
3 a portable enclosure in which babies may be left to play [syn: playpen]
4 a correctional institution for those convicted of major crimes [syn: penitentiary]
5 female swan v : produce a literary work; "She composed a poem"; "He wrote four novels" [syn: write, compose, indite] [also: pent, penning, penned]

User Contributed Dictionary



  • /pɛn/, /pEn/
  • Rhymes: -ɛn

Etymology 1

Origin uncertain, perhaps related to pin.


  1. An enclosed area used to contain domesticated animals, especially sheep or cattle.
    There are two steers in the third pen.
  2. A place to confine a person; a prison cell.
    They caught him with a stolen horse, and he wound up in the pen again.
  3. The bullpen.
    Two righties are up in the pen.
enclosed area for animals
prison cell
  • Finnish: selli, häkki
  • Spanish: celda
(baseball) bullpen
see translations at bullpen.


  1. To enclose in a pen.
to enclose

Etymology 2

penne, from penne, from penna ‘feather’.


  1. A tool, originally made from a feather but now usually a small tubular instrument, containing ink used to write or make marks.
    He took notes with a pen.
  2. The internal cartilage skeleton of a squid, shaped like a pen.
writing tool
  • Arabic: (qálam) , (qálam ħebr)
  • Croatian: pero, kemijska olovka
  • Dutch: pen
  • Finnish: kynä, mustekynä
  • French: plume, stylo
  • German: Füllhalter , Stift
  • Hebrew: עֵט (et)
  • Hungarian: toll
  • Icelandic: penni
  • Indonesian: pen, pena
  • Irish: peann
  • Italian: penna
  • Japanese: ペン (pen)
  • Korean: (pen)
  • Kurdish:
  • Norwegian: penn
  • Persian: (ghalam)
  • Polish: pióro, długopis
  • Portuguese: caneta
  • Russian: ручка (rúčka), авторучка (avtorúčka), перо (peró)
  • Scottish Gaelic: peann
  • Spanish: pluma, boli
  • Swedish: penna, bläckpenna
  • Telugu: పెన్ను, కలము, కలం (pennu, kalamu, kalam)
  • Turkish: kalem
internal cartilage skeleton of a squid


  1. To write (an article, a book, etc.).
to write

Etymology 3

Origin uncertain.


  1. A female swan.
female swan

Etymology 4

Shortned form of penalty


  1. penalty




pen m
  1. pen italbrac writing utensil

Derived terms


Pinyin syllable

  1. A transliteration of any of a number of Chinese characters properly represented as having one of four tones, pēn, pén, pěn, or pèn.

Usage notes

English transcriptions of Chinese speech often fail to distinguish between the critical tonal differences employed in the Chinese language, using words such as this one without the appropriate indication of tone.




Extensive Definition

A pen (Latin penna, feather) is a writing instrument used to apply ink to a surface, usually paper. There are several different types, including ballpoint, rollerball, fountain, and felt-tip. Historically, reed pens, quill pens, and dip pens were used.


The main modern types can be categorized by the kind of writing tip:
  • A ballpoint pen dispenses a viscous oil-based ink by the rolling of a small hard sphere, usually 700–1200 µm and made of brass, steel or tungsten carbide. The ink dries almost immediately on contact with paper. This type of pen is generally inexpensive and reliable. It has replaced the fountain pen as the most popular tool for everyday writing.
  • A rollerball pen dispenses a water-based liquid or gel ink through a ball tip similar to that of a ballpoint pen. The less-viscous ink is more-easily absorbed by paper than oil-based ink, and the pen moves more easily across a writing surface. The rollerball pen was initially designed to combine the convenience of a ballpoint pen with the smooth “wet ink” effect of a fountain pen.
  • A fountain pen uses water-based liquid ink delivered through a nib. The ink flows from a reservoir through a “feed” to the nib, then through the nib, due to capillary action and gravity. The nib has no moving parts and delivers ink through a thin slit to the writing surface. A fountain pen reservoir can be refillable or disposable, this disposable type being an ink cartridge. A pen with a refillable reservoir may have a mechanism, such as a piston, to draw ink from a bottle through the nib, or it may require refilling with an eyedropper. Refillable reservoirs are available for some pens designed to use disposable cartridges.
  • A felt-tip pen, or marker, has a porous tip of fibrous material. The smallest, finest-tipped markers are used for writing on paper. Medium-tip markers are often used by children for coloring. Larger markers are used for writing on other surfaces such as cardboard boxes and whiteboards. Markers with wide tips and bright but transparent ink, called highlighters, are used to mark existing text. Markers designed for children or for temporary writing (as with a whiteboard or overhead projector) typically use non-permanent inks. Large markers used to label shipping cases or other packages are usually permanent markers.
These historic types of pens are no longer in common use:
  • A quill is a pen made from a flight feather of a large bird, most often a goose. Quills were used as instruments for writing with ink before the metal dip pen, the fountain pen, and eventually the ballpoint pen came into use. The shaft of the feather acts as an ink reservoir, and ink flows to the tip by capillary action. Quill pens were used in medieval times to write on parchment or paper. The quill eventually replaced the reed pen.
  • A reed pen is cut from a reed or bamboo, with a slit in a narrow tip. Its mechanism is essentially similar to that of a quill.


Ancient Egyptians had developed writing on papyrus scrolls when scribes used thin reed brushes or reed pens from the Juncus Maritimus or sea rush . In his book A History of Writing, Steven Roger Fischer suggests that on the basis of finds at Saqqara, the reed pen might well have been used for writing on parchment as long ago as the First Dynasty or about 3000 BC. Reed pens continued to be used until the Middle Ages although they were slowly replaced by quills from about the seventh century.
The quill pen was used in Qumran, Judea to write some of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and then introduced into Europe by around 700 AD. It was used in 1787 to write and sign the Constitution of the United States of America. The Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in 1947 on the northwest bank of the Dead Sea date back to around 100 BC. At that time they were written in Hebrew dialects with bird feathers or quills. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Europeans had difficultly in obtaining reeds and began to use quills. There is a specific reference to quills in the writings of St. Isidore of Seville in the 7th century. Quill pens were used until the nineteenth century.
A bronze nibs was found in the ruins of Pompei showing that metal nibs were used in the year 79. There is also a reference in Samuel Pepys' diary for August 1663. A metal pen point was patented in 1803 but the patent was not commercially exploited. John Mitchell of Birmingham started to massproduce pens with metal nibs in 1822. During the 19th century metal nibs replaced quill pens. By 1850 the quality of steel nibs had improved and dip pens with metal nibs came into generalized use.
The earliest historical record of a reservoir pen dates back to the 10th century. In 953, Ma'ād al-Mu'izz, the caliph of Egypt, demanded a pen which would not stain his hands or clothes, and was provided with a pen which held ink in a reservoir and delivered it to the nib via gravity and capillary action. In his Deliciae Physico-Mathematicae (1636), German inventor Daniel Schwenter described a pen made from two quills. One quill served as a reservoir for ink inside the other quill. The ink was sealed inside the quill with cork. Ink was squeezed through a small hole to the writing point. Quill pens began being replaced with steel dip pens in the first years of the 1800s. In Newhall Street John Mitchell pioneered mass production of steel pens. The first fountain pens making use of all these key ingredients appeared in the 1850s. While a student in Paris, Romanian Petrache Poenaru invented the fountain pen; an invention which the French Government patented in May 1827. Starting in the 1850s there was a steadily accelerating stream of fountain pen patents and pens in production.
The first patent on a ballpoint pen was issued on October 30 1888, to John J Loud. In 1938, László Bíró, a Hungarian newspaper editor, with the help of his brother George, a chemist, began to work on designing new types of pens including one with a tiny ball in its tip that was free to turn in a socket. As the pen moved along the paper, the ball rotated, picking up ink from the ink cartridge and leaving it on the paper.
Bíró filed a British patent on June 15, 1938. In 1940 the Bíró brothers and a friend, Juan Jorge Meyne, moved to Argentina fleeing Nazi Germany and on June 10, filed another patent, and formed Bíró Pens of Argentina. By the summer of 1943 the first commercial models were available. Erasable ballpoint pens were introduced by Papermate in 1979 when the Erasermate was put on the market.
In the 1960s the fibre, or felt-tipped pen was invented by Yukio Horie of the Tokyo Stationery Company, Japan. Papermate's Flair was among the first felt-tip pens to hit the U.S. market in the 1960s, and it has been the leader ever since. Marker pens and highlighters, both similar to felt pens, have become popular in recent years.
Rollerball pens were introduced in the early 1980s. They make use of a mobile ball and liquid ink to produce a smoother line. Technological advances achieved during the late 1980s and early 1990s have improved the roller ball's overall performance. A porous point pen contains a point that is made of some porous material such as felt or ceramic. A high quality drafting pen will usually have a ceramic tip, since this wears well and does not broaden when pressure is applied while writing.


globalize section

United States

Statistics on writing instruments (including pencils) from WIMA (the U.S. Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association) show that in 2005, retractable ball point pens were by far the most popular in the United States (26%), followed by standard ball points (14%). Other categories represented very small fractions (3% or less). There is however also a thriving industry in luxury pens, often fountain pens, sometimes priced at $1000 or more.


  • Fischer, Steven R., A History of Writing, London: Reaktion, 2001, 352 p., ISBN 1861891016

See also


pen in Arabic: قلم
pen in Bishnupriya: পেন
pen in Czech: Pero (psací náčiní)
pen in German: Stift (Werkzeug)
pen in Dhivehi: ގަލަން
pen in Esperanto: Plumo (skribilo)
pen in French: Stylo
pen in Scottish Gaelic: Peann
pen in Indonesian: Pen
pen in Hebrew: עט
pen in Malay (macrolanguage): Pen
pen in Dutch: Pen
pen in Japanese: ペン
pen in Korean: 펜
pen in Norwegian: Penn
pen in Portuguese: Caneta
pen in Russian: Ручка (канцелярия)
pen in Simple English: Pen
pen in Slovak: Pero (nástroj na písanie)
pen in Serbian: Перо
pen in Finnish: Kynä
pen in Swedish: Penna
pen in Venetian: Pena
pen in Yiddish: פעדער
pen in Contenese: 筆
pen in Chinese: 筆

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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