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From Graphein to Graphite: Understanding the Etymology of a Pencil’s Core

How Did the Core of a Pencil Get the Name Graphite

Did you Know?

Although the pencil was invented in the latter half of the 17th century, the origin of the black stuff found inside the pencil dates back to ancient Greece. The commonly used term for the soft black stuff forming the core of a pencil is often called lead, which, again, is a misnomer. The mineral used is graphite, an allotropic form of carbon in a hexagonal crystalline structure. Interestingly, the intricate tapestry of language weaves the word “graphite” from its German root, a derivative of an ancient Greek word. The origin of the word “graphite” lies in the Greek verb “graphein”, which means “to write”. German scholar Werner was the first to use graphite in 1796 but used the German derivative “graphite”. With time, the language has evolved, and we now use the term “graphite”. This linguistic connection illuminates the profound relationship between the material and its fundamental purpose: inscribing on a surface. 

To understand how this graphite has become the standard pencil core instead of metal, wood, and other materials, check out the blog on evolution of pencil.

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