Pens, Nibs And Points.

I was sitting here thinking (as I do, from time to time) about the varying nomenclature employed in defining that bit of our fountain pens which does the actual writing. In the comparatively long ago, that thing that we call a nib was a pen. To quote from my 1895 Lloyd’s Encyclopaedic Dictionary (6 vols),

“An instrument for writing by means of a fluid ink. Pens (from Lat. Penna, a feather) originally were made of the quills of large birds, but now quill-pens are comparatively little used, being superseded to a great extent by metal pens. The latter were first introduced for sale in 1803; they are made principally of steel, but other metals, as gold, silver, platinum, aluminium, &c are also used.”

No mention of nibs there, you’ll notice. Not a word that sprang to mind in 1895. Consulting the same source, however, indicates that it was around.

“A small pen adapted to be placed in a holder for use. The usual form of steel pens. Quill nibs are also similarly made and held for writing.”

So, it would seem that when “pen” is used for “nib” it shrinks from the whole quill down to the cut tip, whereas nib pretty much retains its original meaning, that is, the prepared writing tip. Nib seems more apposite, yes?

A term that I see bandied about with unfortunate frequency as a synonym of nib these days is point. Frankly, this one seems perverse, dug up from the cobwebby depths of the early twentieth century just to be different. In my 1895 dictionary approximately sixty disparate meanings for point are given; none of them refer to the writing tip of a pen. By 1911, however, Mabie Todd & Bard were using it in advertisements to denote the nib. Thereafter it sank from sight as a redundancy. It has never been in common parlance. If you ask the man in the street what a nib is, chances are good he’ll be able to answer you accurately. If asked about a pen he’d be in no doubt. It once more refers to the whole writing instrument. A point? It’s a thousand to one against that he would define it as a nib.

Let’s drop the geekery. A nib’s a nib. Or, as they say in eBay, a knib or a nip.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.