pen (writing instrument)


Senior Member
The English word pen (a writing instrument which uses ink) comes from the Latin word penna/pinna, which means feather.

The modern ink pen -- ballpoint pen, fountain pen, etc. -- is always referred to as a pen. If we want to refer to the older type which is actually made from a feather, we say quill or quill pen.

I'm wondering what other languages might have kept forms related to the word for feather. How do you say the following in your language, and is there any connection to your word for feather (or perhaps to the Latin words penna (feather) or pluma (soft feather, down))?

1. pen, ink pen
2. ballpoint pen
3. fountain pen
4. quill, quill pen

  • StefKE

    Senior Member
    French - Belgium
    In French, there is still a connection.
    First, let me say that the French word for feather is plume.

    1. Pen, Ink pen = Stylo, Stylo à plume (or Stylo à encre).
    2. Ballpoint pen = Bic or Stylo à bille.
    3. Foutain pen = Stylo, Stylo à plume (or Stylo à encre).
    4. Quill, Quill pen = Plume

    Let me add the figurative expression "prendre la plume" which means "to begin to write (a book or an article,...)".


    Senior Member
    Arabic, PA and IA.
    In Arabic, the word for pen is Qalam, which is derived from the verb Qalama, which means "to cut of a part" and implies that it is done with care to make the thing better. The pen was called so because the feather or reed or whatever is carefully chamfered from the top to use it for writing.

    In Arabic a feather is Reesha, however, in the old times (say, 2000 years ago) the most common type of pen was not that made of feathers; rather it was made of reed, which is Yaraa’ in Arabic. The translations are as follows:

    Qalam ReSas: Pensil
    Qalam Hibr: Ink pen/fountain pen
    Qalam Jaaf: ball point pen
    Quill, Quill pen: Reesha; however, it is much more likely to be understood as an artist's brush (for artistic painting) since that too is called reesha.
    Old type of pen made of reed: Yaraa’; mostly used for calligraphy; a quill pen may also be referred to as Yaraa’ in order not to confuse it with an artist’s brush.
    Any pen when mentioned “poetically”: Yaraa’.


    Senior Member

    1. pen, ink pen = toc
    2. ballpoint pen = pix
    3. fountain pen = stilou
    4. quill, quill pen = condei, pană (a bit obsolete, from Latin penna, btw Pena is also a common surname)

    The nib of a fountain pen, for example, is called peniţă (little feather).



    Senior Member
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    In German Feder means feather:

    1. pen, ink pen: Füllfeder (in Austria, and used like that without shortening); Füllhalter, Füllfederhalter, Federhalter (in Germany + Switzerland, but this gets shortened in colloquial use to): Füller (and in Switzerland to): Fülli

    2. ballpoint pen: Kugelschreiber (but at least in Austria almost always shortened to): Kuli

    3. fountain pen: see 1.), we do not distinguish here (I am not even sure what the difference between an 'ink pen' and a 'fountain pen' should be; if it is one of the type where you do not insert a cartridge but where you pull the ink up through its tip, similar as one pulls up a serum into a syringe, then we make no difference here to type 1.)

    4. quill, quill pen: what was used in historical time was the Gänsekielfeder = the actual feather of a goose with which one did write (colloquial this probably was shortened to Feder = feather, but this is only a guess of mine) - but you would use this word only if really writing with a feather; probably no one but artists and historians (the latter when imitating medieval style handwriting) uses them any more, in schools (at least here in Austria) what is used are metal dip pens, called Redisfeder (and to my knowledge you can't buy ink pens here which have a real feather at its tip)


    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    In European Portuguese, there is no longer a connection:

    1. Pen, Ink pen = caneta, caneta de tinta permanente (also lapiseira informally)
    2. Ballpoint pen = esferográfica (informally also caneta, and lapiseira informally)
    3. Fountain pen = caneta, caneta de tinta permanente
    4. Quill, Quill pen = pena (this is the only one that means feather)
    5. Pencil = lápis
    6. Mechanical pencil = lapiseira


    New Member
    English - Canadian
    Covered here: French, English, Argentinian, Hungarian.

    "Biro" is the word for "pen" in French language, many English-speaking countries (pro. "BY-ro" in England, and "BEE-ro" in Canada, where one of our two official languages is French), and there are derivatives of the name used in Argentina and other Spanish-speaking lands, (as "birome").

    In Hungarian, a pen is called a "toll".

    Some history:

    László Joseph Bíró was the Hungarian journalist who would become creator of the ballpoint pen. Though the invention was presented in Budapest, the license would be made in Paris (1938). French "i" is pronounced the same as a Hungarian "í", so the sound of this pen's name remained the same when it was introduced to France. Pronunciation was changed in England appropriately to their language.

    During WWII, Bíró fled Paris for safety in Argentina with his brother Georg. There they began a new company -- Biro Pens of Argentina -- to distribute the invention. This will explain the Argentinian connection to the Bíró name, in their word for "pen".

    László Bíró is pronounced "LASS-lo BEE-ro YO-jeff", (with the "j" in "jeff" comparative to a French "j"). In Hungarian, his name is written as Bíró László József. His brother's name, Georg, is properly "Bíró György" under Hungarian variation.

    "Bic" is also a name that is often used to refer to a pen here in North America. The stylo company Bic's name is derive from Macel Bich, who bought the patent for Bíró's design from him when the Bíró brothers left Europe.


    Senior Member

    1. pen, ink pen - pero ("feather") or perce ("small feather")
    2. ballpoint pen - hemijska olovka (lit. "chemical pencil", where "olovka" is derived from "olovo" - lead, plumbum); in colloquial language often just "hemijska"
    3. fountain pen - naliv pero (lit. "filling feather") or penkalo (from name of its creator Slaviljub Eduard Penkala)
    4. quill, quill pen - "pero"

    Words "stilo" (from stylos) and "kalem" (from qalam) were in use to some extent, but they sound very archaic now.


    Senior Member
    Lithuania Czech
    In Czech:
    1. pen, ink pen - pero (s násadkou)
    2. ballpoint pen - propisovačka/kuličkové pero
    3. fountain pen - plnicí pero
    4. quill, quill pen - péro/brk/brko
    (sometimes pero is used instead of péro and vice versa).

    In Lithuanian:
    1. pen, ink pen - ?rašiklis? ?plunksnakotis? (I'm not sure)
    2. ballpoint pen - šratinukas
    3. fountain pen - parkeris
    4. quill, quill pen - plunksna


    Senior Member

    «Στυλό» [stiˈlɔ] (neut.) & «στυλός» [stiˈlɔs] (masc.) < Fr. stylo.
    Ballpoint pen: «Στυλό/στυλός διαρκείας» [stiˈlɔ/stiˈlɔs ði.arˈ] --> lit. pen of duration.
    Fountain pen:
    (1) «Γραφίδα» [ɣraˈfi.ða] (fem.) < Classical 3rd declension deverbative fem. noun «γραφίς» grăpʰís (nom. sing.), «γραφίδος» grăpʰídŏs (gen. sing.) --> slate-pencil < Classical v. «γράφω» grắpʰō.
    (2) «Πέν(ν)α» [ˈ] (fem.) < It. penna.


    Senior Member
    Sardu / Italianu
    In Sardinian :

    1. pinna - pen, writing instrument
    2. pinna - feather
    3. pinna - fin
    4. pinna - lateral part of the nose (pinna de su nasu)
    5. pinna - wooden plank


    Senior Member

    General term is kynä (original meaning "quill", the shaft of a feather), often used for any kind of pen, pencil (lyijykynä < lyijy "lead"), marker (tussi).

    1. pen, ink pen -> mustekynä (muste "ink")
    2. ballpoint pen -> kuulakärkikynä (kuula "(hard) ball" + kärki "point, tip")
    3. fountain pen -> täytekynä (täyte "filling")
    4. quill, quill pen -> sulkakynä (sulka "plume, large feather")


    Senior Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    Dutch - with thanks to Sokol - : feather/s would be pluim/en now, maybe veer/veren, not pen/nen any longer, whereas that is the word we use for pens, etc.

    1. pen, ink pen: vulpen (filling pen)

    2. ballpoint pen: balpen; stylo/bic is not impossible though in Flanders…

    3. fountain pen: see 1.)

    4. quill, quill pen: ganzeveer (compare Ganse[kiel]feder)


    Senior Member
    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    In Catalan:

    Quill pen = Ploma "feather" [from Latin pluma]

    Qalam pen = Ploma de canya "reed feather" or càlam [from Latin calamus 'reed']

    Fountain pen = Ploma estilogràfica "stylographic feather" [from estil "style=graver" (< Latin stylus) and the suffix -gràfic], often reduced to either ploma or estilogràfica.

    Ballpoint pen, biro = Ploma de bola "ball feather" (rare) or Bolígraf (common, from bola "ball" and the suffix -graf, calque from the Spanish bolígrafo), usually reduced to boli /'bɔli/.​
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