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penknife (plural penknives)
- Originally a small utility knife for cutting the points of quill feathers or reeds into nibs to provide or repair writing implements in times before pens with artificial nibs, generally metal, became commercially available in the 19th century. Early versions of penknives commonly were small sheath knives.
- A small knife designed for safe and convenient storage, typically in the form of a miniature clasp knife, or with blade retractable into the handle. For the most part, such more convenient designs eventually replaced rigid pen knives in cutting quill pens or sharpening pencils.
- 1906, Rudyard Kipling, Puck of Pook's Hill:
- Presently the man took a reed pen from his satchel, and trimmed it with a little ivory knife, carved in the semblance of a fish.
"Oh, what a beauty!" cried Dan.
"’Ware fingers! That blade is perilous sharp. I made it myself of the best Low Country crossbow steel. And so, too, this fish. When his back-fin travels to his tail — so — he swallows up the blade, even as the whale swallowed Gaffer Jonah."
- As the need to cut nibs for pens fell away, but small utility pocket-knives remained popular, "penknife" became synonymous with "pocket-knife". Modern penknives often incorporate other tools such as corkscrews, but as a rule are smaller than general-purpose pocketknives.
- 1948, G. Rabel, Discovery:
- The logical distinction between genus and species can, of course, apply to any objects whatsoever. Thus, for example, the genus knife may be divided into several species, such as penknife, table knife, bread knife, razor, etc. We might define the penknife as a knife small enough to be carried in the pocket, with foldable, sheathable elements, characterized by the feature that one blade at least is always suitable for sharpening pencils and erasing ink spots. We are quite sure in which features all the members of a certain species agree, notwithstanding possible individual characteristics, say a monogram on one penknife, or a corkscrew in another.
- Alternative form of