In the wild: a beginner’s glossary of fountain pen terms and phrases.

For those new to the hobby, some of the terminology encountered on fountain pen blogs and forums may seem confusing. Here in a brief introduction, is a bluffer’s guide to get you started or to toss in to conversations with pen enthusiasts over the holiday period. Doubtless there are many others that I have omitted.

  • Acrylic A transparent thermoplastic often used in pen making. Short for Polymethyl methacrylate. So, plastic then.
  • Architect A type of nib grind to produce narrow down-strokes and wide cross-strokes, so named as used reputedly by architects in those elegant annotations of technical drawings and plans. The opposite of a stub nib.
  • Baby’s bottom The shaping and over-polishing of a nib’s tipping material which results in the pen failing to write or skipping.
  • Barrel Usually the long bit of the pen, that screws onto the section.
  • Bleedthrough An annoying tendency of ink to soak right through a sheet of paper to the other side, when unfortunate combinations of pen, ink and paper are used.
  • Bounce A certain softness to a nib, which writes with a spring in its step. Opposite of a nail.
  • Bricks and mortar A shop/store that you can physically walk into and talk to a human being, as opposed to online shopping.
  • Broad The next size of nib width after fine and medium.
  • Bullet proof A term applied to inks that have a high level or water resistance.
  • Buttery A term applied to certain nibs which are extremely smooth, as in “like a knife through butter.”
  • Buyer’s remorse An unpleasant sense of regret at having bought a pen, often when expensive and bought in haste and/or when found to be less satisfactory than one you already own costing one tenth of the price.
  • Currently inked The term conventionally used when providing a list of those of one’s fountain pens which contain ink, at a given time.
  • Cursive Joined up writing.
  • Demonstrator A pen which is comprised of a transparent or semi-transparent material through which you may observe the ink sloshing around and the inner workings of your pen.
  • Dry time The length of time taken for ink to dry on paper to avoid smudging. May also be used to describe a period of abstinence from purchasing additional pens.
  • Ebonite A brand name for a hard rubber, made from vulcanizing natural rubber, for prolonged periods.
  • EDC Every Day Carry. A pen that is carried on a daily basis.
  • Eyedropper A device comprising a tube with a squeezable rubber bulb on the end used to lift ink from a bottle and deposit it into the barrel of a pen. Term also applied to describe pens that fill in this way.
  • Facets Flat surfaces on a pen, sometimes found on the grip sections of pens intended for novices to aid “correct” placement of the fingers symmetrically either side of the nib. Loathed by those who do not conform to this way of holding a pen, as their fingers rest on uncomfortable sharp ridges. For example, Lamy Safari.
  • Feed The part of the pen that regulates the supply of ink from the barrel (ink reservoir or cartridge) to the nib. Usually plastic but sometimes Ebonite in older or a few high end fountain pens if you are lucky.
  • Feedback The sensation of feeling, and sometimes hearing, your nib on the paper surface as you write. Too much of this or too little can be a bad thing. A particular feature of some nibs from Aurora, Montblanc and Sailor.
  • Finial A decorative feature at the top of a pen cap. Serves to help identify a pen in a Pen cup.
  • Fire hose A metaphor applied to nibs which write with an over enthusiastic flow of ink.
  • Forgiving A nib which will still allow you to write when the nib is at less than the ideal angle to the paper.
  • Fountain pen friendly Paper which can be used enjoyably for fountain pens, having a pleasant writing surface and a resistance to bleedthrough. Not paper which is too shiny or coated, or which is too rough textured.
  • Ghosting When you can see one page of writing from the opposite side. Also called showthrough. Not as bad as bleedthrough but may sometimes be bad enough to limit use to one side of the paper.
  • Girthy Having a wide diameter. Typically applied to the grip section or barrel of a pen.
  • Grail Term used to describe, typically, an extremely desirable high end pen that owing to its price or rarity is almost unobtainable.
  • Grind A reshaping of a nib to create a different writing experience and line from its original design.
  • Gusher A nib that emits an excessive amount of ink; see also Fire hose.
  • Hard start The frustrating tendency of some pens not to write immediately when required, after an interval in use of a few days.
  • Homage A polite term for a pen that is a blatant copy of a respected pen design from a different manufacturer. A euphemism.
  • In the wild The natural habitat of fountain pens not yet in your own household. Where you might hope to encounter a pen, hitherto seen only on the internet.
  • Inner cap Usually plastic; an interior layer inside the pen cap to create an air tight seal around the nib when the pen is capped, to prevent ink evaporation, nib dry out and hard starts.
  • Italic A slanting style of writing.
  • Lefty A person who is left handed.
  • Line variation The attractive quality of writing which exhibits both narrow and broad strokes, achieved either by using a flex nib and applying pressure on the down strokes or by using a stub or architect grind nib and keeping the nib at a constant angle as you form the letters.
  • Loupe A magnifying lens, usually of higher magnification than a typical magnifying glass and sometimes illuminated, used by jewellers and watchmakers but also essential for inspecting the nib.
  • Medium A good comprise between a fine and a broad nib. Suits average writing size. Note that in some Japanese pens, a medium nib may equate to a western fine.
  • Micromeshe Abrasive pads for smoothing nibs.
  • Nail A metaphor for a very stiff nib with no bounce or flex.
  • New Pen Day A term often used to announce an additional fountain pen acquisition on social media.
  • Nibliography A term believed to be first attributed to Jon of Pensharing.com to describe a list of pens and inks used in a handwritten letter.
  • Nibmeister A person highly revered in the fountain pen community who is skilled in the craft of altering or repairing a nib.
  • Oblique A nib in which the tip is cut at an angle, usually at 15 degrees, typically from top right to lower left.
  • Overwriter One who writes with a pen held above the line on which he is writing, with the nib pointing towards himself.
  • Pen cup A receptacle to hold the “Currently inked” fountain pens in a vertical position with nibs upwards.
  • Pen loop A device to hold a pen attached to a notebook or notebook cover, usually made of elastic or leather.
  • Piston A type of filling mechanism. A plunger which is lowered to expel air from the ink reservoir and then raised to draw ink up from a bottle by vacuum. Most converters also work in this way.
  • Post Verb, to attach the pen cap to the back end of the barrel, to add length and weight to a pen whilst writing and for safe stowage. Noun: an article written on a blog or verb, to publish such an article.
  • Precious resin: The material from which many Montblanc fountain pens are made.
  • PVD Physical Vapour Deposition: a type of coating applied to nibs or other furnishings of a pen.
  • Rhodium A silver coloured metallic element, highly reflective and resistant to corrosion. Sometimes used to coat nibs and furnishings of a pen.
  • Roll stop A protrusion on a cylindrical pen to prevent it from rolling off a surface.
  • Safari A model of fountain pen made by Lamy and often used for size comparison photographs of other pens.
  • Saturation A quality used to describe ink. Highly saturated inks have a high purity of colour.
  • Section The part of the pen that you grip. Also called the grip section.
  • Shading A pleasing quality in an ink, to produce light and dark tones, caused by ink pooling in the indentations formed by applying pressure to the paper.
  • Sheen A quality of some inks to appear a different colour from different angles. For example a blue ink might exhibit a red sheen.
  • Shellac A natural resin, which was used to form a glued seal in the making of some fountain pens.
  • Shimmer A sparkling quality in ink.
  • Shims Brass sheets of various thickness which are very useful for cleaning and adjusting nibs.
  • Showthrough When the writing on one side of a page is obtrusively visible on the other side. See also ghosting.
  • Sidewriter A person, typically left handed, who writes with his hand moving along from the side of the page rather than from below the line of writing (Underwriter) or above it (Overwriter).
  • Silicone grease A lubricant and seal against ink leakage. Also used by scuba divers and hence available in diving shops. Particularly useful for eyedropper pens.
  • Skip The frustrating tendency of a pen to move across paper without laying down ink.
  • Stealth Term applied to an all black pen with a matte finish, after the aircraft designed to evade detection by radar.
  • Step The difference between the level of the barrel and the section of a pen, sometimes creating a sharp ridge which may be uncomfortable.
  • Stingy Mean or ungenerous. Term used to refer to nibs which write on the dry side, causing reduced lubrication of the nib on the paper and a less enjoyable writing experience.
  • Stub A nib shape which produces broad down strokes and narrow side strokes. Often expressed in millimetres for the broadest strokes, such as 1.1mm, 1.4mm etc.
  • Sumgai The unknown person who gets the best deals at a pen show.
  • Sweetspot The part of the nib which when held to the paper at the optimum angle provides the smoothest writing experience.
  • Tine gap The narrow space between the tines of a nib. Usually narrowing from the breather hole towards the tip. The gap down which ink is drawn as the pen writes.
  • Tines The two sides of a nib, separated by the nib slit or tine gap.
  • Tipping A pellet of hardwearing material applied to the end of the tines and then shaped and polished to form the writing surface.
  • Tomoe River A brand of fountain pen friendly paper from Japan, a favourite of many fountain pen users.
  • Tooth An ability of a pen to provide a degree of feedback from the paper surface and to write even on shiny coated papers.
  • Underwriter One who writes with his pen below the line of writing and with the nib pointing away from himself. A fortunate person for whom fountain pens behave better and exhibit smoother writing.
  • Wish list A list of pens that one is thinking of buying and craves, instead of focusing on those which he already owns. An aid to deciding whether to splurge on one particular pen or another.
  • Workhorse An unglamorous pen that is used day in day out for general purposes and menial tasks.

So there you have it. There are probably lots of terms that I missed, as I only thought of this today. Any errors are purely my own and may be corrected in future editions.

11 thoughts on “In the wild: a beginner’s glossary of fountain pen terms and phrases.

  1. What an enjoyable and informative read. Whenever I come across a reference to Shellac I always think of an episode of Due South where they find a body in a wall which has been coated in this. Isn’t it strange how some random things stick with you forever?

    Liked by 1 person

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