April 09, 2014

Penography and Penknowledgy

, and A. Morton & Co.

[Posted on L&P on May 18, 2008.]
        One of my first encounters with the word “penography” was way back in 1995 or ’96 in Tony Fischier’s Montblanc and Parker websites.  Jim Mamoulides in his Penhero website, and others have adopted the word as well, but I thought Tony coined the word by marrying the words “pen” and “bibliography” together, and I thought he was the first to use it in regards to pens, until I recently ran across an earlier usage.  I found it while searching the N. Y. Times online archives for mentions of A. Morton & Co., an early maker of gold nibs.  By searching for “Morton gold pen” in the pre-1980 archive I found, along with a bunch of repeats of several textual ads from 1862 to 1864, a curious grouping of about 11 articles and ads from the Sept 27, 1862 issue, and most of them, all but two, on page 8.  Even more curious is the fact that all of the selections are subsumed under the main title “Penography”.  The word is used once and is not explained or defined, thus making it a neologism and a true hapax legomenon.  You can find the articles in the newspaper easily by googling the phrase “penography nyt without quotes.  They’re in the first and second items in the search results.  Or search the NYT archive for the word.  You can view PDFs of all eleven articles on the Timesmachine browser, but you have to pay to register with the website.  You can also find the N. Y. Times in the ProQuest Historical Newspapers database.

        As it turns out, Morton purchased a full-page ad in the N. Y. Times, with a little bit of overflow on pages 4 and 5.  The whole page consists of pseudo-articles, poems, and textual ads for and about Morton gold nibs.  They talk about their process of making gold nibs as opposed to the processes used by other firms, the prices of the various sizes, why they are better than steel nibs, which are said to suffer from “steel-pen disease”, how the Morton nibs are sent out and the safety of the mails, and various gushingly laudatory poems and enthusiastic testimonials and recommendations.  I went to the university library and looked up that issue of the paper on microfilm and found that there was a twelfth item that the N. Y. Times retrieval system didn’t find, another long poem titled “A Poet’s Pen”, under the simple heading “Poetry”.  This item probably wasn’t included in the archive because the optical character recognition program couldn’t read the blurred and darkened image in the upper-left corner of the page.  That also means that the N. Y. Times online archive isn’t quite complete.
        So the word “penography” goes back at least as far as 1862, and possibly earlier.  The list of Google citations also reveals that there are earlier uses of the word for other purposes.  Apparently the medical field of urology uses the term radioisotope penography for certain types of medical imagery of penile erections as a screening test for erectile dysfunction and impotence.  With the proliferation of terms in many unrelated fields of study, you never know where they will crossover and intersect, and where an internet search will take you these days, in this case, back to the same old argument about size.
        As with the term “penology”, the study of prisons and the punishment of crime, this medical term, “penography”, reveals a flaw in the spelling and pronunciation of both of these words as applied to pens.  When spelled “penology”, the word is pronounced “pee-nol-uh-jee”, with a long “e”, and “penography” is pronounced “pee-nog-ruh-fee”.  In order to be pronounced “pen-ol-uhjee” and “pen-og-ruh-fee”, those words would have to be spelled “pen-ology” and “pen-ography”, and more properly, they should be spelled “pennology” and “pennography”, with two “n’s”, pronounced “pen-nol-uh-jee” and “pen-nog-ruh-fee”, thus taking their first syllables from the Latin root word “penna”, and the Old French and Middle English word “penne”, not the Modern English word “pen”.  As for me, I prefer the word “penknowledgy”.

George Kovalenko.