That Pointy Thing At The End Of Your Pen

That gold thing on the end of your pen that applies ink to the paper: that’s the nib, right? Most of us these days would agree that’s what it’s called, but not everyone. A regular poster in FPN has insisted for several years that it is the “point.” Eccentricity? Perhaps, but it does have historical authority.

Reading old Waterman publicity material yesterday, in one advertisement the nib was called both the “point” and the “pen.” That advert was as recent as 1933, though I think the “pen” might have been something of an anachronism even then.

So which is it? I think it’s a nib. Language changes and these other names are no longer specific enough. A “pen” now is the whole writing instrument and a “point” is not as good a name as a “nib”. Many things have points but only a fountain pen has a nib. Specificity wins the day!

9 thoughts on “That Pointy Thing At The End Of Your Pen

  1. as an occasional contributor to aforementioned journal Deborah, I’d suggest there is a genuine need for both words ‘nib and point’.
    If we’re speaking in a general sense about the bit at the front that writes, and discussing whether it’s gold, steel, or whatever other precious metal it’s made from, it’s origins and maker etc. – then I don’t see how we can use anything other than nib.
    On the other hand, many folk who are contributors to that forum – the States people in particular I’d suggest – discuss at regular intervals with much chat about the line that a nib will lay down – anything from fine to massive stub – and then there really isn’t much option other than speaking about a point or tip.
    The nib is the overall front part, but it’s the point/tip that actually does the writing, and it’s the gauge of the point that can vary considerably in order to provide line variation.
    I’d suggest that this difference in terminology is another of those ‘which side of the pond you stand’ idiosyncratic thingies.

    1. I think that’s a different subject, Paul. I agree that “point” is a necesaary term for that part of the nib that touches the paper but that wasn’t what I was writing about. It was really a (perhaps pedantic) discussion about the three names that have been applied to the nib over the last couple of centuries and what is appropriate to call it now.

  2. Deb, I don’t think that your contribution to this discussion is pedantic .

    There will always be a dynamic crossover between archaism , current common usage and neologism.

    The terms Point and Pen were used when they were being applied to specific parts of a feather ! These terms carried forward as the technology left the feather behind and duplicated its actions , but as technology allows more refinement , neologisms are bound to creep into common parlance.

    There’s quite a bit of healthy discussion out there as to when, where and why the word ‘Nib’ came to be applied , but it is fairly clear that ‘nib’ has become the de facto correct word.
    I don’t think it leaves out any important connotation.

    Now that the various parts of the nib also have specific names , I see no problem with saying ; heel, shoulder, point, tines and tipping when referring to the nib.

    As an aside, the German word for fountain pen Füllfederhalter seems to have kept most of its connection to the origin words of a holder for a feather that self fills ?
    Not being German I could stand to be corrected .

    Gotta love Etymology.

    Cheers all.

    1. // As an aside, the German word for fountain pen Füllfederhalter seems to have kept most of its
      // connection to the origin words of a holder for a feather that self fills ?
      // Not being German I could stand to be corrected .

      Hi Rob,

      that is quite correct, just remove the “self” as an eyedropper is a Füllfederhalter, too.

      I like the english word “tipping” very much, as the german “Federspitze” doesn’t differentiate between the “point” and the hard metal (“iridium point”).

      Best
      Jens

  3. I think we have missed the point. The nib and point are two different pen parts. it is a nib on a fountain pen and a point on a stylography.
    Regards Bill Power

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