I am curious about the etymological history of 万年筆{まんねんひつ}, whose actual meaning is a fountain pen in Japanese.

If we separate the kanjis we have :

万{マン}: ten thousand

年{ネン}: years

筆{ヒツ}: brush

So, literally it means a ten thousand years brush, isn't it ?

Why is it called that way ? Is it because this item made its appearance at some point in History ten thousand years after another event ?

1 Answer 1


百, 千, and 万(萬) all have 'many' as part of their definitions. Going in order of lower number to higher number signifies a higher quantity. These numbers are often used figuratively, such as 万歳{ばんざい}(萬歳)signifying 'long life', while literally meaning 10,000 years (of age). 万 is often used in the figurative sense to convey something similar to permanence or eternity, though not quite in the literal sense.

very many; lots. Advanced age.
many; numerous; very.
myriad; many; all; a large number; everything

In the case of the naming of 万年筆, one would assume that it was mostly a marketing device, giving the impression to the buyer that it would last indefinitely.

  • 2
    万年 is a kind of idiom: 万年雪 = permanent snow, 万年カレンダー = perpetual calendar Commented Aug 26, 2019 at 7:11

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