What with the ubiquity of computers (full disclosure: this blog post was written on one) and growing popularity of tablets and pad devices and smartphones, not to mention the near disappearance of checks and handwritten letters, do you have many excuses to pick up a pen these days? Me, I use pens constantly, make a point of always having one on me, and I’ll be damned if I don’t show off my fabulous handwriting every chance I get. I’ve also got ink constantly bespeckling my hands, but what the hey. If you too are a recalcitrant old-timer who thinks pens have still got swag, learn how to talk about your offbeat tastes in Colombian Spanish. And while we’re at it, let’s invite a few more writing utensils to the party. Feeling themselves growing ever more obsolete, they’re all in need of a little love right now.

There are many, many words used for pen in Spanish. Here are the ones I’ve run into in Colombia.

Esfero: The only word I ever heard for pen in Bogotá. Although its usage seems to be mostly limited to the capital city, apparently it’s sometimes used here for fancy pens. Supposedly also used in Ecuador.

Lapicero: The only word I’ve heard for pen in Medellín.

Bolígrafo: Although I have yet to hear it, I’m told that this word is used in certain regions and would certainly be understood anywhere. Not the most beautiful word in the world, if you ask me.

Pens’ pals:

Un portaminas: Mechanical pencil

Marcador: Marker, be it a Sharpie or a kid’s coloring markers

Resaltador: Highlighter

Crayolas, Crayones: Crayons

Colores: Colored pencils

Now that you know how to talk about writing utensils in Colombian Spanish, take a hike to your closest papelería (I like to translate this in my mind to a “papery”) and have a heyday. I have an inkling* that these words are going to come in handy.

*I can’t resist sharing something I just learned about English. Did you know that inkling comes from the verb “to inkle,” which means to communicate in an undertone or whisper, to give a hint of something–? I have tried to impart all of my knowledge on writing utensils in this post; please let me know in the comments, however, if you feel rankled that I’ve merely inkled.

_________________________________________________ Non-natives, what’s your experience with these words? Had you heard them before? How have you heard them used? Where? If you’re a native Spanish speaker, anything to correct, clarify, comment on or concur with?


17 responses to “Pen-sando

  1. “Boligrafo” is the only one of these words I’ve have ever heard, which probably means that it’s typical of European Spanish. I hardly ever write with pens, nowadays that my schooldays are over. Which I’m not really sad about because my hand-writing is horrible.


  2. I run into boligrafo as just “boli” every so often, but still, esfero more. I did not know the word for mechanical pencil, handy.


  3. Ask someone to lend you an “estilografo”, and let us know what the person gives you.


  4. Piotrek- I think bolígrafo is just about as universal as you can get, penwise. Many countries have their preferred other way of saying it, but everyone understands bolígrafo. I’ve read that it’s very often simply called “boli” in Spain.

    Syd- Do you? Young people or all ages? Just wondering.

    Juan- Will do.


  5. bolígrafo was the first one I have learned, but pluma is comming up more often. Does anyone know where that one is used?


  6. @jarvis1000
    I found an info that “pluma” means fountain pen. The funny thing is that in Polish we have the same association- “fountain pen” corresponds to the Polish “pióro”. What is interesting is that both these words (Spanish “pluma” and Polish “pióro”) mean also “feather”. I guess it’s an association that hails back to the times when scribes would write using feathers and ink :)


  7. Falta hablar sobre el borrador que sirve para deshacer lo hecho por el lápiz. Y desde luego, a veces se escribe tanto que la punta del lápiz se gasta, entonces hay que usar un sacapuntas o tajalápiz.


  8. Jarvis- I think that pluma is used pretty exclusively in Mexico for all pens, so I imagine that it’s used a lot in the US by Mexican immigrants (I know you’re not in the US). What’s your main source of Spanish?

    Piotrek- Yes, I think it’s fountain pen in many places and obviously heralds back to quills. Interesting to hear that it’s the same in Polish.

    Felipo- Yes, those things are definitely important terms as well. It’s just that I tried to focus on writing utensils here. I will consult you for a future post on more school/office supplies. Thanks.


  9. My main source of spanish is what ever I get my hands on….Sometimes it’s castillano sometimes its de argentina….Right now I am using the FSI Spanish(free, can’t beat that price) and so that would make sence why pluma is comming up more often since it was created in the US.

    On that note, is it a benefit or a detriment to familiarize with tanto de formas de espanol? (sorry for the spanglish, but I am trying to ween myself off english mientras sea posible)


    • Bueno, entonces te respondo en español ya que quieres evitar el inglés todo lo posible. Creo que depende. A mí me parece mejor al principio que te enfoques en aprender el español “estándar”, aunque eso no existe como tal, pero bueno, como vemos en el caso de “bolígrafo”, hay palabras que se entienden en todas partes aunque es posible que varios países tengan otras palabras que prefieren utilizar. Hay coloquialismos que también se usan muy extendidamente que te ayudarán cuando hablas con la gente. Pero si aprendes demasiados regionalismos, puede que resulte confundiéndote más, sobre todo si hablas con alguien que no conozca ese lenguaje (por ejemplo, usar palabras muy colombianas con un uruguayo). Creo que depende de tu nivel y qué tan bueno eres para poder recordar qué se dice en qué partes. Qué español te interesa más (es decir, de qué país?)? Hay muchos latinos allá donde estás? De dónde son?

      Cómo te va con FSI? Lo recomiendas?


      • te agradezco que me respondiste en español. Primero, me gusta FSI, pero hecho de Gobierno de los estados unidos. Entonces es tan burrido, pero es muy “thorough” por eso me gusta. En Nueva Zelanda, no hay muchos latinos aqui. Hay unos españoles pero no mucho y no conozco nadie que es español. Entonces no se que español me interesa mas. Siempre me gusta la idioma y siempre quiero aprenderla desde muchos años. Tengo amigos de españa, chille, y mexico entonces no se de que pais quiero enfocar.


        • Con mucho gusto, amigo. Repito que me parece mejor al principio simplemente aprender todo lo que puedas sin preocuparte de los países. Si dices algo “mexicano” con tu amigo chileno, él te enseñará una forma más estándar o más chilena de decir lo mismo. No te preocupes, pues!

          Qué bien que hayas tenido una experiencia positiva con FSI. Me alegra.


  10. I asked someone here in Cali what the word for paperclip and he didn’t have an answer for me. Anyone know?


  11. Pluma – used that in Colombia in the 60’s… the word and the instrument. Bolígrafo for a ballpoint pen. I think last year when I as in Medellín bolígrafo was more generally used.


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