Is there a native, non-loanword for "pen" (the writing instrument)? Or is there only 「ペン」?

There is one for "pencil" (鉛筆), one for "ruler" (定規), one for "paper" (紙) and even though the one for "eraser", 消しゴム, is half loanword due to the ゴム, at least there is an alternative to the full loanword イレーザー. It would be weird if there is no native word for "pen".

  • 2
    Not directly related to the question, but ballpoint pen is called ボールペン in Japanese, and it is a common word unlike the English counterpart. For example, if you say “Can I borrow a ballpoint pen?” in English, it may sound over-specific, but in Japanese, “ボールペンを貸してもらえますか” is just a usual expression. – Tsuyoshi Ito Jun 5 '11 at 15:51
  • "Ruler" can also be 物差し (ものさし). – istrasci Jun 5 '11 at 18:01
  • 1
    The English word "pen" surely predates ballpoint pens and even fountain pens. Though Japanese writing was mostly with brush there must have been quill pens introduced if not used natively. Same goes for those pens with a nib which were not fountain pens (what are they even called in English?) – hippietrail Jun 8 '11 at 23:52
  • There is a non-loan word for eraser: 字消し, although it is slightly old-fashioned. – user458 Dec 25 '11 at 20:43

There's one for a fountain pen: 万年筆 (まんねんひつ), but pens haven't been around that long, so everything else seems to be ペン. Mr. Biro only started making his ballpoints in the 1940's.

Even one of the types of pencil has become a pen - シャーペン (it's a shortening of シャープペンシル).


I'm Japanese. In Japan,"ペン" ordinarily means something like a ballpoint pen (ボールペン), a mechanical pencil (シャーペン), a highlighter pen (蛍光ペン), a quill pen (羽根ペン), a nib/dip pen (つけペン), etc..

It doesn't mean pencil (鉛筆) or brush (筆, 毛筆).

There weren't any words which means "pen" in Japanese because the Japanese used brushes for a long time. Japanese made a new word for pen when it had been introduced.

I think there isn't non-loanword for "pen" in Japanese. If you really want to use one, I would suggest using "筆".


Well the last kanji for 鉛筆 is 筆 (ふで), which is writing brush. The modern pen has come a ways from a writing brush.

Maybe fountain pens are in between the two, that would be 万年筆 (まんねんひつ).

  • OP wasn't asking about the modern pen. The English word covers anything from a feather converted at home to a modern precision instrument and everything in between. – hippietrail Jun 9 '11 at 0:20
  • 1
    I figured the writing brush was the earliest ink-based Japanese writing instrument. That is, in English we had penne and penna, both of which seem to lead back to feathers. Looking up quill pen though, I find 羽根ペン. That ペン is still there. – Louis Waweru Jun 9 '11 at 9:49

One of my dictionary says ペン as 「洋筆

  • 2
    This appears to be an old, Meiji-era word. Currently it appears to refer to small paintbrushes. – Amanda S Jun 8 '11 at 16:25
  • Without knowing anything about this dictionary it could be that "洋筆" is used for distinguishing senses like for the "writing implement" sense rather than the "animal containment" sense. – hippietrail Jun 9 '11 at 3:35

Fountain pens were not introduced to Japan until the 19th century but I can find no dates yet for quill pens or nib pens / dip pens.

However a quill pen is called a 羽根ペン and a nib/dip pen is called a つけペン so both currently contain ペン.

Perhaps a Chinese word for pen might be older and may have formerly been used in Japanese?

I would't rule out the possibility that the word for brush also covered pens at one time. Not all pens are modern pens and the English word pen is not a modern word but comes from a Latin word for feather. There are also modern brush pens and some expensive old brushes with a form factor that looks rather like a pen.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.