Blue Ants and Pencils

Blyant (pencil in Danish and Norwegian)

In Danish the word for pencil is blyant [ˈblyːˌanˀd], which sort of sounds like blue ant. When I learnt this, I wondered where this word comes from, and I thought I’d share what I found with you.

The word blyant, which is also used in Norwegian, combines bly (lead) with the French suffix -ant. It is an abbreviation of blyertspen [source], which comes from blyert (black lead, graphite), from the German Bleiertz (lead ore – lit. “lead earth”) and pen [source].

Related words include:

  • blyantsholder = pencil holder
  • blyantspenge = financial allowance for members of the European Parliament (“pencil money”)
  • blyantspids = the tip of a pencil
  • blyantspidser = pencil sharpener
  • blyantsstreg / blyantstreg = pencil line
  • blyantstegning / blyanttegning = pencil drawing

Source: Den Danske Ordbog

The words for pencil in Swedish (blyertspenna), Faroese and Icelandic (blýantur) come from the same roots [source].

The German word for pencil, Bleistift [ˈblaɪ̯ʃtɪft] comes from a similar root: Blei (lead) and Stift (pen) [source].

There is in fact a creature called a blue ant (Diamma bicolor) – it is blue, but is a species of wasp rather than an ant, and lives in parts of Australia [source].

2 thoughts on “Blue Ants and Pencils

  1. I love the definition of ‘blyantspenge’, namely ‘financial allowance for members of the European Parliament’ (“pencil money”). I presume that this is meant with heavy irony; what is the Danish for ‘money for gold-plated top-of-the-range cars/boats/planes’? Sadly, it looks as if the UK is going to continue subsidizing these people for a while longer!

  2. The actual dictionary definition of that term is “fast økonomisk godtgørelse som medlemmer af Europa-Parlamentet får til dækning af arbejdsrelaterede udgifter til kontorudstyr, it, lokaleleje, kortere rejser m.m.” (fixed financial allowance as members of the European Parliament that covers work-related expenses for office equipment, IT, local rental, shorter journeys, etc.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *