Tuesday, September 23, 2008

What's It Called?

29-Sept: This posting has been amended again!

Here’s a question for all you folk out there in blogosphere. What are the words for pencils and mechanical pencils in your part of the world? Also, if you are in a non-English speaking country, what is the literal translation into English for your terms?

I’ll start. Here in NZ, if you want a wooden pencil then you ask for a “pencil”, and if you want a mechanical pencil then you ask for a “mechanical pencil”. However, back when I was young if you wanted a mechanical pencil you would have asked for a “propelling pencil”. Sometime around the 1990’s or so the term “mechanical pencil” started to take over from “propelling pencil”.

My sources tell me that in Denmark, the word for a wooden pencil is “blyant” which translates into English as “pencil”, i.e. a wooden pencil. However, the Danish term for a mechanical pencil is “pencil”. Yep, the English word “pencil” has been taken into Danish as the term for a mechanical pencil. So, if you are out shopping in Denmark and ask for a “blyant” you will get a wooden pencil, and if you ask for a “pencil”, you will get a mechanical pencil. They also do have other terms for mechanical pencils such as “skrueblyant” which literally translates as “screw pencil”, or “trykblyant” which translates as “push pencil”, but plain old “pencil” is the most common.

Heading south across the border into Germany, the term for a wooden pencil becomes “Bleistift” which translates as “pencil”, and for a mechanical pencil there is the generic term "mechanischer Bleistift" ("mechanical pencil") but the more common term is “Druckbleistift” (pressure pencil). There is also the seldom used “Feinminenstift" (“thin lead" pencil). Note that in both German and Danish the word for lead (“Blei” and “bly”) is usually in the name.

So, what are the terms in your part of the world? Please, leave a comment.

OK, well this is an addition to the original posting above. As I said last amendment, thanks very much to those of you who have commented so far, all very interesting to know. Interesting to note some of the variations in the Spanish speaking world, and even in a geographically small country like Denmark there is some discussion. On the other hand, across the far flung countries of the English speaking world, no one has suggested any other term for mechanical pencil. It's not a contest, but I must say that my favourite terminology is from Croatia, I really like the idea of strolling into a shop and asking to see a selection of their finest "technicals".


Anonymous said...


Wooden pencil = lapis
Mechanical pencil = mechanical pencil

At least, in popular usage.

Akis said...

In Greece the wooden pencil is Μολύβι (Molivi) which comes from the word lead (Molivdos in Greek).

The mechanical pencil is Μηχανικό Μολύβι (Mechaniko Molivi) or simply Μηχανικό (Mechaniko).
In many countries pencil is usually associated with lead (Blei in German Molyvdos in Greece).
In the English language it was associated with the pen (PENcil).
In some languages something is named after the utility and in other after the material... although pencils don't have lead anymore.

Anonymous said...

Brasil, portuguese:

wooden pencil: lápis

mechanical pencil: lapiseira

lead: mina or grafite(most popular)

DaftDude said...

I would like to refine the Danish definitions a bit. You got most of it right, a wooden pencil is called a 'blyant' but when speaking of a mechanical pencil, the most common used term is 'stiftblyant' the literal translation being: 'lead pencil' referring to the type of pencil leads used.

Anonymous said...

Brasil, portuguese:

eraser: borracha

Marjon said...


pencil = potlood, just a simple wooden pencil
mechanical pencil = vulpotlood, which translates literally to 'refill pencil', referring to being able to refill it after the lead is used

Before I learned of this difference I would refer to drawings done by mechanical pencil as done with a 'refill-pencil' :P

Ricardo said...

Hello there, greetings from Portugal!
Up here we call a wooden pencil "lápis", a MP is called "lapiseira" or "lapiseira mecânica" but it's most commonly known by "portaminas" (translates literally to lead holder), the thing is, if one asks for a "lapiseira" will end up looking at a ball point pen (?) this happens all the time! That's why we use the word "portaminas" more often. Btw, an eraser is "borracha", lead is "mina" and a sharpener is called "afia lápis" or "afiador" there's also the word "aguça" wich is a mostly used by children.

Anonymous said...

Arab Emirates:
arabic :)

pencil = qalam resas
mechanical pencil = qalam makanical (common usage)
eraser = memhaa

Anonymous said...


pencil - olovka (pencil)
mechanical pencil - tehnička (lit. technical)
pen - kemijska (lit. chemical)
fountain pen - nalivpero (lit. pour-feather)
lead - mina, špica (lead, point)
eraser - gumica (rubber)

Jean-Bernard said...

How about some french!
I live in Québec.
In french, we have a general word for writing instruments : crayon. We use this word to refer ton pens and pencils. When we want to refer to a woodcase pencil, we say crayon de plomb, which could be translated as lead writing instrument, or lead pencil. To refer to coloring pencils, we say crayon de bois, which means wood writing instrument, or wood pencil. As for MPs, we use the words pousse-mine and porte-mine, which mean, respectively, lead pusher and lead holder.

Unknown said...

Hi! In Venezuela (Latin-American Spanish) we use the terms:

Pencil --> Lápiz
Mechanical Pencil --> Portaminas
(could be translated into lead carrier)
Ball point pen --> Lapicero
Fountain pen --> Pluma
('pluma' is feather so I guess it goes back to the time of quills and ink)
Eraser --> Borrador
Lead --> Mina
(this translates into mine, as in mineral mine)

I know there are a lot of variations depending on the country (México, Colombia, Argentina, España) mainly on the names of mechanical pencil, ball point pen and fountain pen and.
I think it would be safe to say, that at least pencil in spanish is LAPIZ, and you will always be understood.

memex said...


wooden pencil > matita (that just means pencil)

mechanical pencil > portamine (that is literally translated in english with "leadholder")

actually there is a difference between:

portamine a pinza (literally translated as "pliers leadholder") > that refers to spring clutch leadholders

portamine a scatto (literally translated as "spring leadholder" - but i'm not sure that the translation is completely correct) > that refers to incremental advance clutch mechanical pencil, usually with thin lead

Anonymous said...


wooden pencil>enpitsu (pencil)
eraser>keshigomu (erasing rubber)
lead holder>shin-horudaa (lead holder)
mechanical pencil>shaap-pensiru (sharpend pencil)
fountain pen>mannenhitsu (eternal pen)
lead>shin (lead)

Anonymous said...

A little correction for Germany/Austria

Blei_stift is a lead_pencil

A mechanical pencil is either a Druckbleistift (pressure pencil) or a Drehbleistift (propelling pencil)

Max said...

Where I went to school in Copenhagen, Denmark, a mechanical pencil was either called 'skrueblyant' (twisting pencil, prob. from the old twisting mechanisms) or 'stiftblyant' ('stift' is a refill lead and related to bleistift in German). When I worked in the graphic industry it was also called a stiftblyant. I've never heard the word pencil used outside stationary shops.

Btw. just got myself a Pentel Graphgear 1000. What a stunning piece of writing masterpiece! A tad big and a little more distance between the tip of the lead and the grip area than I'm used to. But still a fantastic pencil.

Anonymous said...

@Max and Draftdude. As I'm the source of Dave's knowledge of Danish I'll better answer this one.
Maybe it's a question of a generation gap in the language or "milieu"?
To me "stiftblyant" is a rather new designation - I went to school in Copenhagen too, but in the early sixties, back then a "pencil" was a mechanical pencil.
In the catalouges I get from various stationary shops most use "pencil" or "stiftpencil" for a mechanical pencil. Besides I've also seen "mine pencil","mine blyant" og "trykblyant". If I ask for a "pencil" in my local "Bog og Ide" I get a mechanical one. So I think "the confusion is complete" as we say.
Nice to see so many Danes here BTW.
pencil greetings

Anonymous said...

Hi all,

In Sweden, a "pencil" is called "blyertspenna", or "blyerts" for short
(where "bly" = "lead"). A "mechanical pencil" is called "stiftpenna",
where "stift" is translating into a piece of lead, lit. pin/brag/sprig/
tag/nail/needle/style (recognize the word "stylus"?) and "penna"
is something to write with, be it a fountain pen or a quill.

It is interesting to note the origin of the English word "pencil":
See for example http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/pencil
where you will learn that "pencil" originally is a
diminutive of "peninculus" [brush], which in turn is
a diminutive of Latin "penis" [tail]. Over the years,
"lead pencil" has been shortened to just "pencil" in

Certain language groups have kept the brush-meaning;
thus a brush is called "pensel" in Swedish and Danish
and "pinsel" in German. See the similarity: pencil - pensel - pinsel?

We all know why graphite is called lead in this context,
right? If not, see for instance http://pubs.acs.org/cen/whatstuff/stuff/7942sci4.html
and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pencil

Have fun!

Anonymous said...

Hello Dave,

I dunno how many people reading your blog over here in Turkey, but AFAIK I'm the only one. ;)


Kalem means Pen in Turkish

Pencil >> Kurşun Kalem (Lead Pen)

Mechanical Pencil >> Uçlu Kalem (Pointed Pen or Pen with point), Versatil Kalem (Versatile Pencil)

Lead: Uç, Min
Lead Holder: Uç Kutusu

Foutain Pen: Dolma Kalem

Take Care,

DJS said...

In Spanish (Spain):

Pencil --> Lápiz / lapicero
Mechanical Pencil --> Portaminas
Ball point pen --> Bolígrafo
Fountain pen --> Pluma / Estilográfica
Eraser --> Borrador / Goma de borrar
Lead --> Mina

Anonymous said...

Around here, Uruguay (next door to Argentina), it goes:

Pencil-- Lapiz
Mechanical pencil-- Lapiz mecanico/(sometimes also Portaminas)
Ball point pen-- Birome/Lapicera
Fountain pen-- Pluma (estilografica if it has an ink reservoir)
Eraser-- Goma (de borrar)
Lead-- Mina

Anonymous said...

Not from China, but I am Chinese and have been there a few times.
There are many of different dialects in China, and differing words, but it would mainly revolve around this one:

笔 (Translation-writing utensil?)
Might have a 子 after it, but it's kind of universal. Might refer to a pen in context. But, depends on certain words following or preceding it. Could also mean a brush, or even strokes of any writing utensil. It varies a lot.

As for mechanical pencils, I can't quite think if there is a word... See, pencils are mainly used by children or artists, the pen being more widely used as one gets older.

I can say that when I did get a few pencils there (Faber-Castell Grip Matic, why yes, those made in China are also sold there), they broke rather quickly... random information.

Rogelio said...

In Mexico (spanish)

Pencil --> Lápiz
Ball point pen --> Pluma
Fountain pen --> Pluma fuente
Eraser --> Borrador / Goma

This is interesting when you buy a mechanical pencil in Mexico.
If the pencil uses a lead equal or less than 0.9mm we call it lapicero if it uses a thicker lead we call it portaminas. In the same way if the leads are equal or less than 0.9 mm we call them puntillas and if they are thicker we call them minas

Anonymous said...

In South Korea

Mechanical Pencil --> Sha-pu 샤프

Anonymous said...

Thing is though, pencils never had lead (Pb) in them! They are pure graphite, or compressed carbon.

Anonymous said...

Well even close to you in Australia the most popular name for mechanical pencils (when I was in school 2 years ago at least) was a 'pacer' after the papermate brand name, it was very rare to hear them be called anything different.

Anonymous said...

Some addition + correction to Turkish terms from Emrecan:

>>Mechanical Pencil >> Uçlu Kalem ...
also refered as "sifir bes kalem" which means literally "zero-five pencil" obviously refering to the common 0.5 mm lead mechanical pencil.

>>Lead Holder: Uç Kutusu...
Emrecan's translation means lead box -- which is not correct, a lead holder being the actual old school drafters writting implement. "uclu kalem" would be the correct term for lead holder, which literally translate "pencil with tip, point" which refers to the lead piece.


Unknown said...

Actually, in Croatia, we have another word for pen which is 'penkala' after our famous inventor Eduard Slavoljub Penkala who invented mechanical pencil 1906. Most people don't know that pen was named after him (and not after english word pen)

Anonymous said...

In German there is another term- Minenschreiber-literally leadwriter. Also, in Croatian the folks also call it pinalo to simplyfy the form. ~Borna

Anonymous said...

Also, in Croatian the word is ''tehnička olovka'' which translates into technical pencil. Also, Borna (nice name) you said pinalo, it should be ''pinkalo'', but i believe it is a typo. ~technopencil