July 14, 2014

‘Sumguy’ and ‘Banana Pen’

, and “frankenpen” and “stylophile”.

      Here is a story about the word “sumgai”, pronounced “some guy”, from the fountain pen of Bill Riepl.  This article was archived in the early 2000’s by Len Provisor in the
Pentrace “Older Stuff”, but it was originally published much earlier on Stylophiles Online, which isn’t online anymore.
      Len wrote this introduction, “The name Sumgai has by now become synonymous with the dread nemesis of all collectors, the cause of “the one that got away”.  Of course, the real dark secret of Sumgai is that we all get a chance to be Sumgai ourselves sooner or later.  As a wise fellow once said, We have met the enemy, and he is us”.  In the story, Bill Riepl finds some pens, and beats the sumgai to the pens, and thereby becomes the sumgai himself.  “As I drove away”, he wrote, “I thought I saw an awful form materialize and slink into the store.  It seemed that there was a horrible cry, but I couldn’t be certain because I had the radio turned up”, but actually, in that case Bill was transformed into the dreaded Sumgai.  By the way, I prefer the spelling “sumguy”, and the feminine of “sumguy” is obviously “sumgal”.
      And now, here’s the story of the Riepled Banana Pen that I placed on the Zoss List in August 2003.  Back around 1997, Bill Riepl related a story on Zoss about having gone to a picnic and having left a case full of fountain pens in a hot car on a sunny summer day.  When he got back to the car he found that he had toasted that case of pens in the window of the car, and the pens had melted into curved banana shapes.  These became known as “riepled banana pens”, and to do this to a pen was to “riepl the pen”.
      I think the word “frankenpen” originated on Zoss as well about the same time, but I can’t prove it anymore because the Zoss archive going back before 1998 is dead, and isn’t online anymore.  You have to understand that, at the time, the Zoss archive went back to only September 2005, and the early years of Zoss messages were not included.  At one time, the messages back to about May or June 1998 were on  Due to some problems when the Zoss archive was transferred over to eScribe in the spring of 1998, the earlier messages going back to 1995-6 were all lost, a real shame.  Did anyone out there save any of the messages privately?  Now the messages between 1998 and 2005 are not in the archive either.  [And now, the Zoss Archive since Feb 16, 2012 is dead, and the search function for the period from 2005 to 2012 doesn’t work.]  In any case, I found a few messages in the eScribe archive before it went down.  In the “2nd Annual Zoss Awards For 1998” presented by Deb Alicen on Jan 1, 1999 she states, “I shall award New Wordmaker of the Year to Bill Riepl, for sacrificing a case full of pens above and beyond the call of duty in order to enrich our vocabularies with the word “riepled”, which, as we all now know, means pens roasted too long in warm, gentle sunlight, inside a car”.  Therefore, the word must pre-date the time when the eScribe archive was established.  What do you bet that in the “1st Annual Zoss Awards For 1997” the New Word was either “sumgai”, or “frankenpen”?
      The earliest use of “riepled” I found on Google is for a message on alt.collecting.pens-pencils that goes back to Dec 28, 1998.  Now, acp-p goes back to the middle of the 1990s, but its earlier Usenet archive, the one before it was associated with Google, was lost when it was not transferred over to Google, another real shame.  Bruce Harrison’s “The Ink Spot” and the pen boards are no longer online and have no archives.  Shame! twice again.  The first use of the word “riepled” that I found in the Zoss Archives was in a message by Alexandra “Xan” Nyfors on Aug 8, 1998, but that’s not the first use.  Xan used the word in her message as if it were already a well-established and accepted term, so it wasn’t the first use ever, but it was close to the time of the first use.
      At the end of August 2003 there was a series of messages on Zoss about the terms “frankenpen” and “riepled banana pen”.  Anna Lawson remembered using “riepled banana pen” early in 1997.  She wrote, “I vaguely remember some delight among some people about its use early on, so it might have been fairly new about that time.  I can’t document it, though”.  Xan Nyfors wrote that it must have originated early in 1997 when she was working for Equator Technologies.  She remembers that the car was parked at a company picnic, and that “frankenpen” wasn’t a new term at the time.  In fact, “frankenpen” came up during the advent of the term “riepled” because “Some wag suggested that Bill could turn a riepled banana pen into a frankenpen”.  But the earliest recorded use of “frankenpen” I have found so far is in a message on Zoss by Xan from June 24, 1998, where she wrote, “The more I work with vintage fountain pens, the less sure I am of my ability to spot anything but the most egregious Frankenpen”.
      Here’s a tantalizing tidbit.  If you do a Wikipedia search for “frankenpen”, you don’t find anything, but a drop-down menu offers you the alternate word “Frankenpenis”, which redirects you to the entry for
John Wayne & Lorena Bobbitt.  It says that they were “an American couple whose abusive relationship gained worldwide notoriety for an incident in 1993 when she severed his penis with a knife.  It was subsequently surgically reattached”.  And a little later, “In 1996, he appeared in an adult film, Frankenpenis”, not to be confused with Frankenweenie.  This was in 1996, and perhaps the word was up in the air, erect, so to speak, and had a certain fertility and potency and fruitfulness in its influence, or effluence, on the coming and the coining of the term “frankenpen” in 1997.  But then, perhaps frankenpen is the word that came first.  Again, just don’t forget to put a space after that red word.
      Does anyone out there have any earlier uses of any of these terms in a print source?  And how about the word “stylophile”?  When was it first used?  One of the earliest uses I have been able to find is in Pen World, Vol. 1, No. 4, the Summer 1988 issue, page 14.  It was used by Art Maier to describe himself as a “Teacher, calligrapher, researcher, writer, stylophile”.  The word simply jumps off the page.  But that’s just my sixpence.


                             —From Mark Twain’s Letters.

George Kovalenko.