Origin of penning

First recorded in 1620–30; pen2 + -ing1




any of various instruments for writing or drawing with ink or a similar substance.
a detachable metal penpoint, filled by dipping or with a quill; nib.
such a penpoint with its penholder.
fountain pen.
ball-point pen.
the pen as the instrument of writing or authorship: The pen is mightier than the sword.
a person's style or quality of writing: He writes with a witty, incisive pen.
a writer: I leave this story to abler pens.
the profession of writing: a master of the pen.
Computers. stylus(def 3).
  1. a quill.
  2. a pinfeather.
something resembling or suggesting a feather or quill.
Zoology. an internal, corneous or chitinous, feather-shaped structure in certain cephalopods, as the squid.

verb (used with object), penned, pen·ning.

to write with or as with a pen; put down in writing: to pen an essay.
to draw with or as with a pen: to pen a sketch.

Origin of pen

1250–1300; Middle English penne < Old French penne pen, feather < Late Latin penna, Latin: feather
Related formspen·like, adjectivepen·ner, noun




a small enclosure for domestic animals.
animals so enclosed: We have a pen of twenty sheep.
an enclosure used for confinement or safekeeping: We have built several pens to hold our harvest of corn.
a dock having a protective concrete structure overhead, used to service and repair submarines.

verb (used with object), penned or pent, pen·ning.

to confine in or as in a pen.

Origin of pen

before 1000; (noun) Middle English penne, Old English penn (in compounds); perhaps akin to pin; (v.) Middle English pennen, derivative of the noun Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Related Words for penning

compose, box, case, coop, corral, mew, hedge, confine, cage, engross, indict, draft, autograph

Examples from the Web for penning

Contemporary Examples of penning

Historical Examples of penning

  • This is the only explanation we can give for penning this memorial.

    Gathering Jewels

    James Knowles and Matilda Darroch Knowles

  • She was collecting some essays and penning an introductory memoir.

    The Longest Journey

    E. M. Forster

  • Let it not be supposed, from what I have just said, that I am detailing any mystery, or penning any romance.

  • This discourse was the cause of his penning a letter to his brother.

    The Trumpet-Major

    Thomas Hardy

  • Let me be as brief as I can in penning the details, which almost sicken me while I recall them.

    Buckskin Mose

    Buckskin Mose

British Dictionary definitions for penning


n acronym for

International Association of Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists, and Novelists




an implement for writing or drawing using ink, formerly consisting of a sharpened and split quill, and now of a metal nib attached to a holderSee also ballpoint, fountain pen
the writing end of such an implement; nib
style of writing
the pen
  1. writing as an occupation
  2. the written wordthe pen is mightier than the sword
the long horny internal shell of a squid

verb pens, penning or penned

(tr) to write or compose

Word Origin for pen

Old English pinne, from Late Latin penna (quill) pen, from Latin: feather




an enclosure in which domestic animals are keptsheep pen
any place of confinement
a dock for servicing submarines, esp one having a bombproof roof

verb pens, penning, penned or pent

(tr) to enclose or keep in a pen

Word Origin for pen

Old English penn, perhaps related to pin




US and Canadian informal short for penitentiary (def. 1)




a female swan

Word Origin for pen

C16: of unknown origin
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for penning



"writing implement," late 13c., from Old French pene "quill pen; feather" (12c.) and directly from Latin penna "a feather, plume," in plural "a wing," in Late Latin, "a pen for writing," from Old Latin petna, pesna, from PIE *pet-na-, suffixed form of root *pet- "to rush; to fly" (see petition (n.)).

Latin penna and pinna "a feather, plume;" in plural "a wing;" also "a pinnacle; battlement" (see pin (n.)) are treated as identical in Watkins, etc., but regarded as separate (but confused) Latin words by Tucker and others, who derive pinna from PIE *spei- "sharp point" (cf. spike (n.1)) and see the "feather/wing" sense as secondary.

In later French, this word means only "long feather of a bird," while the equivalent of English plume is used for "writing implement," the senses of the two words thus are reversed from the situation in English. Pen-and-ink (adj.) is attested from 1670s. Pen name is recorded from mid-19c.



"enclosure for animals," Old English penn, penne, "enclosure, pen, fold," of uncertain origin, perhaps related to Old English pinn "pin, peg" (see pin (n.)) on notion of a bolted gate or else "structure made of pointed stakes."



late 15c., from pen (n.). Related: Penned; penning.



"to enclose in a pen," c.1200, from Old English *pennian, from the source of pen (n.2). Related: Penned; penning.



slang, "prison," 1884, shortening of penitentiary; earlier use (1845) probably is a figurative extension of pen (n.2).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with penning


see slip of the lip (pen).

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.