Pen|is broken. Please use finger.

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Under the rubric "Kerning 101: I rest my case on the importance of spacing", Toni Tan, Director of Cambria Press, sent me this photograph:

The source of the photograph is the Facebook feed of Star Trek's George Takei. One of his fans sent it to him.


"Beneath the rule of men entirely great,
The pen is mightier than the sword."

Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton (1803–1873), he who penned the most (in)famous opening line in literature: "It was a dark and stormy night", and who also gave us such immortal phrases as "pursuit of the almighty dollar" and "the great unwashed".

Except when the pen|is broken, in which case you'll just have to use your finger (or your sword, if you have one).


  1. Carl said,

    March 28, 2012 @ 11:01 pm

  2. Duncan said,

    March 28, 2012 @ 11:35 pm

    The first time I came across that particular juxtapositioning was in the surely deliberate pen-island dot … (without the dash, and I'm trying not to link-pimp while getting the point across so omitting the TLD, I just found it… creative), a site on the net that sells (well, used to, see below) pens and that last I looked, was entirely SFW but for the url, but which surely gets a good amount of its customers and fame due to that particular juxtapositioning (but equally surely loses some due to filtering as well).

    Actually, just re-checked and it's now redirecting to another domain, which itself appears to be a parked domain. I guess the content filters won that particular battle. Too bad, really, as whoever came up with it surely got points for creativity!

  3. HP said,

    March 28, 2012 @ 11:53 pm

    Well, I was going to mention the infamous SNL "Penis Mightier" skit, but I see that Carl has pipped me with some weird machinima video. So I'm left with the early "dot-com bubble" parody website, "Pen Island — The Best Pens on the Internet."

    [(myl) And don't forget, which was apparently real (but now is]

  4. HP said,

    March 29, 2012 @ 12:03 am

    …and now I'm crossing wires with Duncan. It's .net, not .com. The site is still up, still with the same 90s web design, but not actually selling anything (if indeed they ever did).

  5. Carl said,

    March 29, 2012 @ 12:46 am

    I would have linked to the real SNL video, but I'm pretty sure NBC has hunted down all the copyright infringing content.

  6. George said,

    March 29, 2012 @ 1:17 am

    I would find it hard to believe that the joke wasn't deliberate. On a sign like that, most people would just write 'pen broken'.

  7. David Moser said,

    March 29, 2012 @ 1:53 am

    Reminds me of a sign in London during the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana. There were some souvenir pens for sale in a store, and the sign maker had committed the sin of faulty apostrophe placement, writing "pens" as "pen's". To add to the mistake, they had also made the apostrophe a bit too long so that it resembled a letter 'i'. So what was intended as:

  8. David Moser said,

    March 29, 2012 @ 1:55 am

    Sorry, last message got submitted before finished.


  9. michael farris said,

    March 29, 2012 @ 3:11 am

    In the same general semantic field….

    No, no that related, but I won't pass up an easy opportunity to promote this show:

  10. ShadowFox said,

    March 29, 2012 @ 5:30 am

    Shouldn't that be "impotence of spacing" in the first line? ;-)

  11. Dan said,

    March 29, 2012 @ 5:56 am

    In August 1995, the New York Times crossword had the clue "The _____ mightier….."

  12. Martin J Ball said,

    March 29, 2012 @ 7:26 am

    When working as a telephone operator (when we had those) in vacations many years ago, English visitors were always nervous about naming the exchange shown in the phone booth when calling from the quaint Welsh village of Penisarwaun …..

  13. richard howland-bolton said,

    March 29, 2012 @ 7:40 am

    Bit like this from Carlsbad, CA?

  14. Keith said,

    March 29, 2012 @ 9:40 am

    Let's not forget "fortuitous capitalization", such as


  15. Doreen said,

    March 29, 2012 @ 9:47 am

    Another, possibly apocryphal, example: an online directory of mental health counsellors etc. located at therapist finder . com (without the spaces, obviously)

  16. Skullturf said,

    March 29, 2012 @ 10:12 am

    This is an excuse to post the following.

    Why do dick jokes work better than poo jokes?

    Because: the penis, mightier than the "S" word.

  17. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 29, 2012 @ 12:18 pm

    Mark Twain was one of the first if not the first to leave out the space in "The pen is mightier…" as noted here.

  18. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    March 29, 2012 @ 3:34 pm

    Keith and Doreen: Yes, but those are double entendres which might plausibly arise by accident; 'who represents' and 'therapist finder' are perfectly sensible phrases in themselves. Whereas 'Pen Island' is weird – why should pens come from an island? – prompting the suspicion that they were doing it deliberately.

  19. Keith said,

    March 29, 2012 @ 3:48 pm

    This also reminds me of another joke…

    "Can I use your Dictaphone?"
    "NO! Use your finger to dial, like everybody else!"

    I suppose this joke only works on those of us old enough to remember Dictaphones.

    Youngsters should look here:


  20. Keith said,

    March 29, 2012 @ 3:54 pm

    @Andrew (not the same one)

    I understand the double entendre, and that really fits with the PowerGenItalia example, too… which is why I put the term "fortuitous capitalization".

    But Pen Island is a very reasonable name, you know. Pen and its variant Penn are not uncommon family names, and I see no reason why there shouldn't be an island named after a long-forgotten Mr. Pen.,+6,+LA&hl=en&ll=30.541306,-89.841342&spn=0.011661,0.016909&sll=40.913708,-73.953616&sspn=0.081856,0.135269&oq=pen+isla&t=h&hnear=Pen+Island&z=16


  21. chris y said,

    March 29, 2012 @ 4:21 pm

    I see no reason why there shouldn't be an island named after a long-forgotten Mr. Pen.

    Also, a pen is a female swan, such as might hang out around islands on inland waterways.

  22. Sili said,

    March 29, 2012 @ 4:46 pm


    A ripoff.

    I'm pretty sure he gave it away for free.

  23. Adam said,

    March 30, 2012 @ 5:15 pm

    Carl said,

    I would have linked to the real SNL video, but I'm pretty sure NBC has hunted down all the copyright infringing content.

    I'm under the impression the SNL "rights"-holders are real b*****ds about it. Every SNL sketch I used to be able to find on youtube (such as "you can't put too much water in a nuclear reactor", which is of great linguistic interest, of course) has disappeared. Those sketches are part of our pop-cultural heritage and ought to be available on-line.

  24. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 30, 2012 @ 5:34 pm

    Bulwer-Lytton did write "pursuit of the almighty dollar" in 1850 (as far as I can tell from Google Books, but as was pointed out in a.u.e., Washington Irving usually gets credit for the last three words. He had written "…the almighty dollar, that great object of universal devotion throughout our land…" in "The Creole Village" in 1837.

  25. Private Zydeco said,

    April 1, 2012 @ 3:08 am

    Reason for visit: penu(pause)ury

  26. Ryan Whitley said,

    April 25, 2012 @ 2:11 pm

    I took this picture in West Seattle, WA last year. I had no idea it was going to go so far! I didn't get the sense that they did it on purpose. I pointed it out to the cashier who immediately tried to correct the problem by drawing in a hyphen between pen and is…

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