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Selection of colored pencils.

Alternative formsEdit


From Anglo-Norman and Old French pincil (see the variant pincel, which gave rise to Modern French pinceau (paintbrush)), from Latin pēnicillum, diminutive of pēniculus (brush), itself a diminutive of pēnis (tail; penis). Not related to pen.



pencil (plural pencils)

  1. (now chiefly historical) A paintbrush. [from 14th c.]
    • 1590, Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, III.0:
      But living art may not least part expresse, / Nor life-resembling pencill it can paynt [].
    • 1603, Michel de Montaigne, chapter 17, in John Florio, transl., The Essayes [], book II, London: [] Val[entine] Simmes for Edward Blount [], OCLC 946730821:
      why is it not lawfull for every man to pourtray himself with his pen, as it was for him to doe it with a pensell?
    • 1791, James Boswell, Life of Johnson, Oxford 2008, p. 1390:
      He requested three things of Sir Joshua Reynolds:—To forgive him thirty pounds which he had borrowed of him; to read the Bible; and never to use his pencil on a Sunday.
  2. A writing utensil with a graphite (commonly referred to as lead) shaft, usually blended with clay, clad in wood, and sharpened to a taper. [from 16th c.]
  3. (optics) An aggregate or collection of rays of light, especially when diverging from, or converging to, a point. [from 17th c.]
  4. (geometry) A family of geometric objects with a common property, such as the set of lines that pass through a given point in a projective plane. [from 19th c.]
    • 1863, The Civil Engineer and Architect's Journal
      When, by the pencil becoming oblique to the surface, the vergency produced on the pencil becomes changed, the primary and secondary focal points, V and H, separate []
  5. (medicine, obsolete, rare) A small medicated bougie. [19th c.]
  6. (gambling) Short for power of the pencil.
    • 1978, Mario Puzo, Fools Die
      And most important of all, Cully now had 'The Pencil', that most coveted of Las Vegas powers.

Derived termsEdit




pencil (third-person singular simple present pencils, present participle (UK) pencilling or (US) penciling, simple past and past participle (UK) pencilled or (US) penciled)

  1. (transitive) To write (something) using a pencil.
    I penciled (BrE: pencilled) a brief reminder in my notebook.
    • 1888, Thomas Hardy, “An Imaginative Woman”, in Wessex Tales:
      She had hardly got back when she encountered a piece by Robert Trewe in the new number of her favourite magazine, which must have been written almost immediately before her visit to Solentsea, for it contained the very couplet she had seen pencilled on the wallpaper by the bed, and Mrs. Hooper had declared to be recent.
  2. (transitive) To mark with, or as if with, a pencil.
    • 1852, The Ark, and Odd Fellows' Western Magazine
      It pencilled each flower with rich and variegated hues, and threw over its exuberant foliage a vesture of emerald green.

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pĕncil (Jawi spelling ڤنچيل‎)

  1. to be isolated, separated

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