It’s not a Pencil, it’s a Karandash!
I got to make this simple here. It’s not a fictional story I have to tell you here. It’s factual. It happened and it’s all about the humble pencil. We call this unique tool of our trade pencil. Pencil is a good name. It works for us. By definition a pencil is an instrument fro writing or drawing, consisting of a thin stick of graphite enclosed in a long thin piece of wood. That is as simple as it can get. Or course these days you can find more intricate incarnations of the simple wood casing for our graphite centre.
Other countries call the pencil different. There is crayon for the French, Bleistift for the Germans. Then you have lipid, potlood, zīmulis, قلم, matte, lapis, leann luaidhe, पेन्सिल, penna and then карандаш. I have more but you get the drift. Now this last one caught my attention. Karandash! It is the Russian version of pencil. That rings a bell and I know I have seen this before. I know that name from early on in my life. It is written on, you guessed it right, a pencil. Caran d’Ache is a Swiss brand of pencils. Pretty good ones at that. But then again, I’m a bit beast as I grew up with them and I went through a lot of them in my childhood.
So why do the Russians call the pencil Karandash, after the Swiss pencil brand Caran D’Ache? They jury is out there on this subject. I give you two version and you can pick the one you like best.
Version one: The Russians always had a name for pencil and that is Karandash or карандаш in their writing. Then some nifty Swiss businessmen come along and want to create a new company, but need a good name. They search high and low. However they struggle to fond a name that suits. Since they are based near Geneva, they are French speaking Swiss. And one day they come across the Russian version of pencil Karandash. Hey, that has a French ring to it. Let’s add some apostrophe, split up the word and make it ours. And so Caran d’Ache is born.
Version two: Caran d’Ache is a pseudonym of a French satirist and political cartoonist Emmanuel Poiré. A Swiss pencil maker names their pencisl in honour of him. It is a great success. They are successful enough to hand out promotional boxes of pencils. One of these boxes is for the Russian Zsar Alexander. Or one of them. He liked them a lot and called them Karandash. That in turn replaced the word they were using for pencil.
Right, here you go. We have two version and you have to work out which is true. Maybe none. Maybe it’s a combination of the two. Or is it just a pure coincidence? I let you decide. Meanwhile I hope you keep using those pencils for your artwork, regardless what you call them. I know I do.