From Academic Kids

Styli used in writing in the Fourteenth Century.
Styli used in writing in the Fourteenth Century.

A stylus (plural: styli) is a writing utensil. It usually refers to a narrow, elongated staff, similar to a modern ballpoint pen. Many styli are slightly curved to be held more easily.

Styli were first used by the ancient Mesopotamians in order to write in cuneiform. Styli were usually made out of reeds that grew on the sides of the Tigris and Euphrates and down to Egypt where the Egyptians used styli from sliced reeds with sharp points. Cuneiform was entirely based on the "wedge-shaped" mark that the styli made when pushed into a clay tablet, hence the name cuneiform coming from the Latin root cuneus meaning wedge-shaped.



The word was borrowed from Latin stilus, that was taken from an Etruscan word that has its origin in Greek stulos (pillar).


Styli were used from classical times until the nineteenth century to write on wax tablets (tabulae), which were used for a variety of purposes, from secretaries' notes to recording accounts. Some examples of wax-tablets have been preserved in waterlogged deposits, for example in the Roman fort at Vindolanda on Hadrian's Wall. One end of such styli was pointed for writing and the other was flattened into a broad shape for erasing.

Use in Arts

Styli are used in various arts and crafts still. Example situations: rubbing off dry transfer letters, tracing designs onto a new surface with carbon paper, and hand embossing. Styli are also used to engrave into materials like metal or clay.

Modern use

Missing image
Stylus for jukebox using shellac 78rpm records, 1940s

Today, the term stylus often refers to an input method usually used in PDAs and Digitizing Tablets. In this method, a stylus that secretes no ink touches a touch screen instead of a finger to avoid getting the natural oil from one's hands on the screen, or produces brushstrokes in a computer screen, respectively.

A stylus may also be used to scribe a recording into smoked foil or glass. In various instruments this method may be used instead of a pen for recording as it has the advantage of being able to operate over a wide temperature range, does not clog or dry prematurely, and has very small friction in comparison to other methods. These characteristics were useful in certain types of early seismographs and in recording barographs used in determining sailplane altitude records.

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a gramophone cartridge with stylus for use on vinyl records

In the sound recording industry, a stylus is a phonograph or gramophone needle used to play back sound on gramophone records, as well as to record the sound indentations on the master record.

See also

de:Griffel ja:スタイラス


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