Fountain Pens in different languages
About fifteen percent of the world speaks in Mandarin – that is Chinese to us philistines from the wrong side of the Great Wall. And they call the Fountain Pen the “Gāngbǐ” (钢笔). By comparison, less than half of those putting their Gāngbǐ on paper, speak in English. Little wonder, the world is full of Chinese fountain pens. Well, I know that things are not that simple and just because about six percent people speak English, only that many actually use the term “Fountain Pen” to refer to their writing instruments is stretching things a tad bit too far, but then again, one has to begin somewhere. No, that does not, by any stretches of the imagination mean that I am trying to compere a Conway Stewart of yore to a Jinhao imported from the back-door. However, if one were to add the teeming millions who speak Hindi (fourth in terms of population) and generally refer to the Kalam as a Fountain Pen, the results will be skewed, terribly skewed, in favour of the British who, it is said, ruled us with protocol, alcohol and a lot of gall. Well, the protocol after all, was overwhelmingly written and signed by the fountain pen.
But why Gāngbǐ alone? More people around the world call it the “Pluma Estilográfica” – that is Spanish for Fountain Pen, which happens to be the second top language by population. In Arabic they call it the “Qalam Habar”, while in Portuguese a fountain pen is christened “Caneta-Tinteiro”. Make sure you remember that the next time are in Goa!
But nothing beats the Bengali name of a Fountain Pen – “Jhorna Kolom”. Well, with more than two million speakers, we would have ensured that a lot of ink flow down that Jhorna (spring / fountain), but then again, we take a certain nihilistic pride in using terms that we learnt during the Raj – going to the extent of ignoring our own. Incidentally, it is said that it was no less than the poet laureate Rabindra Nath Tagore who had coined the term. Still, fountain pen it is and will be!
In Russia they call the Fountain Pen the “Avtoruchka” (авторучка) while in Japan they are commonly referred to as “Man’nenhitsu” (万年筆). Ah, finally a name that is regal enough to call your Namiki Emperor, or the Nakaya Yakomakie Wild Strawberry. The Koreans incidentally are not far removed and call their fountain pens “Mannyeonpil” (만년필).
More people around the world have Punjabi as their native tongue than German. I honestly don’t know about the Punjabi term for a fountain pen, but in German, they call it the “Füller” – as in a Mont Blanc Füller. In Tamil however, the term is “Nīrūṟṟu Pēṉā” (நீரூற்று பேனா) while in France, perhaps naturally (read characteristically), the name of the Fountain Pen takes on a more aromatic, bubbly incarnation – “Stylo Plume”. Writing with a plume must have been a style statement of sorts once upon a time, the obvious reference to a stylographic pen (or was it the other way round?) notwithstanding. The Italians are incidentally pretty close, calling the fountain pen a “Penna Stilografica” as are the Romanians with their “Stilou”.
The Turkish call their fountain pens “Dolma Kalem”. In Javanese it is a fairly straight forward “Pen Fountain”, while in Vietnam it is “Bút Máy”. The Polish, with their “Pióro Wieczne”, the Afrikaans with “Vulpen” and the Swedish with “Reservoarpenna” are also on more or less, on predictable lines ,while the Norwegian term for a fountain pen, “Fyllepenn” is not really exotic for that matter either.
There is a reason behind this rant. If you were to stumble across an old stash of fountain pens in some forgotten drawer and are about to dispose them off, for whatever they are worth, remember me. I run an old-age home in my heart for the aged, the infirm and the lonely – fountain pens. I will take them in, give them the respect they deserve and shower all the love that I can muster in a tongue of their own. Yeah, whats in a name?
- The figures are about a decade old and I have no way of knowing anything better. Besides, the percentages quoted are approximations as they are intended to be indicative, not exact to the nth decimal point.