Cob and Pen - somewhat off the subject

To: "" <>
Subject: Cob and Pen - somewhat off the subject
From: Brian Fleming <>
Date: Wed, 09 Apr 2003 20:21:54 +1000
While the word 'pen' is used for a female swan, I don't myself believe
that this has much to do with 'pen' as a writing instrument. 
For this Eric Partridge, in his etymological dictionary 'Origins', gives
Latin word 'penna' as the source - it means a wing or a large feather. 

'Cob' for the male swan may be the word which is applied to a
variety of 'solid rounded objects' according to Partridge (though he
doesn't mention swans) - cobnuts (a type of hazel), a cob horse (small
but solid build), and corn cobs. And now applied to banksia flowerheads
by some people.

Large feathers were of course used to cut quill pens - usually goose
feathers, domestic or wild, but swan or turkey do just as well. I once
tried to cut quills from a beachwashed albatross's primaries, but not
having a razor-sharp pen-knife nor the skill, this didn't work. Ladies
in the Jane Austen era sometimes displayed their neat writing and skill
in pen=making by using a crow-quill - which must have been very fiddly.

Anthea Fleming

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