Daily mythology: The pencil

After the pen (or before it?) a very important invention. The name doesn’t come from William Penn but from the Latin “penicillus” (= little tail, compare “penis” or “penicilline”. In German argot “pennen” means “to sleep”, a school is logically “die Penne”, another etymology we don’t need to follow here…)

The pencil was possible as soon as the large deposits of graphite in North
umberland near Keswick were discovered. Up to today these deposits are the only ones in the world, so we aren’t astonished that the pencil started it’s career in England.

Digression: Graphite is an allotrope (“a form”) of carbon (and not of lead, as people used to think – see Turkish “Kurşunkalem” or German “Bleistift”), as diamond is one. So graphite as well as diamond are pure carbon, but the one isn’t only the girls best friend but the hardest material on earth. Nothing can scratch a diamond except another diamond. Graphite on the other side is the smoothest of all solid materials and can even be used as lubrificant instead of oil! Diamond is an isolator, graphite leads electricity. Marvelous attributes!
As allotrope diamond has a tetragonal connection of its atoms while graphite materializes in a hexagonal way. Look: much pencils have hexagonal cross sections!

Once the inner of a pencil is used you are able to sharpen your pencil or with knife or with a sharpener. We loved the very used, very short ones. The ones to put easily behind your ear.
Everybody knows the hardness-grading of the pencils too (to harden it, graphite was mixed with clay). We all know H, HB, B and F. But only today I learned, that these letters were derived from the Czech manufacturer Hardtmuth, which founded Koh-i-Noor. H stands for Hardtmuth, B for Budějovice, where the Koh-i-Noor company was situated, F for Franz (Hardtmuth). What coincidence: Koh-i-Noor is the biggest diamond known on earth…. But if I would come to Budějovice, I would drink Budweiser beer and only then visit some pencil museums!

The pencil is used by artists, craftsmen, tailors, architects, students, “Pennȁler” (those who go to the “Penne”, the school, “Penner” = sleeper = German homeless), I think by everybody. Notable pencil-users were Benjamin Franklin, bringing the pencil to America, Thomas Alva Edison, Thoreau, Vladimir Nabokov, who rewrote everything he had ever published, usually several times, in pencil, John Steinbeck, an obsessive pencil-user, Van Gogh or Roald Dahl, who had 6 sharpened pencils ready at the beginning of each day and only resharpened them,when all 6 pencils became unusable.
But I bet you’re using pencils too?


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