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A stylus (plural styli or styluses) is a
writing utensil A writing implement or writing instrument is an object used to produce writing. Writing consists of different figures, lines, and or forms. Most of these items can be also used for other functions such as painting, drawing and technical drawing, b ...
or a small tool for some other form of marking or shaping, for example, in
pottery Pottery is the process and the products of forming vessels and other objects with and other materials, which are fired at high temperatures to give them a hard, durable form. Major types include , and . The place where such wares are mad ...

pottery
. It can also be a computer accessory that is used to assist in navigating or providing more
precision Precision, precise or precisely may refer to: Science, and technology, and mathematics Mathematics and computing (general) * Accuracy and precision, measurement deviation from true value and its scatter * Significant figures, the number of digits ...

precision
when using
touchscreen A touchscreen or touch screen is the assembly of both an input ('touch panel') and output ('display') device. The touch panel is normally layered on the top of an electronic visual display of an Information processor, information processing system ...

touchscreen
s. It usually refers to a narrow elongated staff, similar to a modern
ballpoint pen A ballpoint pen, also known as a biro or ball pen, is a pen A pen is a common writing instrument A writing implement or writing instrument is an object used to produce writing Writing is a medium of human communication that involves ...
. Many styluses are heavily curved to be held more easily. Another widely used writing tool is the stylus used by blind users in conjunction with the
slate Slate is a fine-grained, foliated, homogeneous metamorphic rock , a type of metamorphic rock Metamorphic rocks arise from the transformation of existing rock (geology), rock to new types of rock, in a process called metamorphism uprigh ...
for punching out the dots in
Braille Braille ( ; Braille: ⠃⠗⠇; ) is a tactile used by people who are . It is traditionally written with embossed paper. Braille users can read computer screens and other electronic supports using s. They can write braille with the original ...

Braille
.


Etymology

The English word ''stylus'' has two plurals: ''styli'' and ''styluses''. The original Latin word was spelled ''stilus''; the spelling ''stylus'' arose from an erroneous connection with Greek (''stylos''), "pillar".''
Oxford Latin Dictionary The ''Oxford Latin Dictionary'' (or ''OLD'') is the standard English lexicon of Classical Latin Classical Latin is the form of Latin, Latin language recognized as a Literary language, literary standard language, standard by writers of the l ...
'', s.v. "stilus" (2012).
The Latin word had several meanings, including "a long, sharply pointed piece of metal; the stem of a plant; a pointed instrument for incising letters; the stylus (as used in literary composition), 'pen'". The last meaning is the origin of ''
style Style is a manner of doing or presenting things and may refer to: * Architectural style An architectural style is a set of characteristics and features that make a building or other structure notable or historically identifiable. It is a sub-cla ...
'' in the literary sense. The Latin word is probably derived from the
Indo-European The Indo-European languages are a language family native to western and southern Eurasia. It comprises most of the languages of Europe together with those of the northern Indian subcontinent and the Iranian Plateau. Some European languages of ...
root ''*stei-'' "to prick", also found in the words ''stimulus'' "a goad, stimulus" and ''instigare'' "to incite, instigate".


Ancient styluses

Styluses were first used by the ancient Mesopotamians in order to write in
cuneiform Cuneiform is a Logogram, logo-Syllabary, syllabic writing system, script that was used to write several languages of the Ancient Near East. The script was in active use from the early Bronze Age until the beginning of the Common Era. It is nam ...

cuneiform
. They were mostly made of reeds and had a slightly curved trapezoidal section. Egyptians (Middle Kingdom) and the Minoans of
Crete Crete ( el, Κρήτη, translit=, Modern Modern may refer to: History *Modern history Human history, also known as world history, is the description of humanity's past. It is informed by archaeology Archaeology or archeology ...

Crete
(Linear A and Cretan Hieroglyphic) made styluses in various materials: reeds that grew on the sides of the
Tigris The Tigris () is the easternmost of the two great rivers that define Mesopotamia, the other being the Euphrates. The river flows south from the mountains of the Armenian Highlands through the Syrian Desert, Syrian and Arabian Deserts, and empti ...

Tigris
and
Euphrates The Euphrates () is the longest and one of the most historically important rivers of Western Asia. Tigris–Euphrates river system, Together with the Tigris, it is one of the two defining rivers of Mesopotamia (the "Land Between the Rivers"). O ...
rivers and in
marsh A marsh is a wetland A wetland is a distinct ecosystem that is flooded by water, either permanently (for years or decades) or seasonally (for weeks or months). Flooding results in oxygen-free (Anoxic waters, anoxic) processes prevail ...

marsh
es and down to Egypt where the Egyptians used styluses from sliced reeds with sharp points; bone and metal styluses were also used. Cuneiform was entirely based on the "
wedge A wedge is a triangular A triangle is a polygon In geometry Geometry (from the grc, γεωμετρία; ''wikt:γῆ, geo-'' "earth", ''wikt:μέτρον, -metron'' "measurement") is, with arithmetic, one of the oldest branche ...
-shaped" mark that the end of a cut reed made when pushed into a
clay tablet In the Ancient Near East The ancient Near East was the home of early civilization A civilization (or civilisation) is any complex society that is characterized by urban development, social stratification, a form of government, and sym ...
; from
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman Republic, it became ...

Latin
''cuneus'' = wedge. The linear writings of Crete in the first half of the second millennium BC which were made on clay tablets that were left to dry in the sun until they became "leather" hard before being incised by the stylus. The linear nature of the writing was also dictated by the use of the stylus. In Western Europe styluses were widely used until the
late Middle Ages The Late Middle Ages or Late Medieval Period was the period Period may refer to: Common uses * Era, a length or span of time * Full stop (or period), a punctuation mark Arts, entertainment, and media * Period (music), a concept in musical com ...
. For learning purposes the stylus was gradually replaced by a writing slate. From the mid-14th century improved water-powered
paper mill A paper mill is a factory A factory, manufacturing plant or a production plant is an industrial Industrial may also refer to: Industry * Industrial archaeology, the study of the history of the industry * Industrial engineering, engineering ...
s produced large and cheap quantities of paper and the
wax tablet A wax tablet is a tablet made of wood and covered with a layer of wax , a typical wax ester. Image:Beeswax foundation.jpg, Commercial honeycomb foundation, made by pressing beeswax between patterned metal rollers. Waxes are a diverse class of ...
and stylus disappeared completely from daily life.


Use in arts

Styluses are still used in various arts and crafts. Example situations: rubbing off
dry transfer The dry transfer technique was used in lettering sheets made by Letraset (left) and other companies (right). Dry transfers (also called rub-ons or rubdowns) are decals that can be applied without the use of water or other solvent A solvent (fr ...
letters, tracing designs onto a new surface with
carbon paper Carbon (from la, carbo "coal") is a chemical element with the Symbol (chemistry), symbol C and atomic number 6. It is nonmetallic and tetravalence, tetravalent—making four electrons available to form covalent bond, covalent chemical bonds. I ...

carbon paper
, and hand embossing. Styluses are also used to into materials like
metal A metal (from Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is appro ...

metal
or
clay Clay is a type of fine-grained natural soil Surface-water- gley developed in glacial till, Northern Ireland.">Northern_Ireland.html" ;"title="glacial till, Northern Ireland">glacial till, Northern Ireland. Soil is a mixture of organic m ...

clay
. Styluses are used to make dots as found in folk art and Mexican pottery artifacts.
Oaxaca Oaxaca ( , also , , from nci, Huāxyacac ), officially the Free and Sovereign State of Oaxaca ( es, Estado Libre y Soberano de Oaxaca), is one of the 32 states that compose the political divisions of Mexico, Federative Entities of Mexico. It is ...

Oaxaca
dot art is created using styluses.


Smartphones and computing

Modern day devices, such as phones, can often be used with a stylus to accurately navigate through menus, send messages etc. Today, the term ''stylus'' often refers to an input tool usually used with
touchscreen A touchscreen or touch screen is the assembly of both an input ('touch panel') and output ('display') device. The touch panel is normally layered on the top of an electronic visual display of an Information processor, information processing system ...

touchscreen
-enabled devices, such as Tablet PCs, to accurately navigate interface elements, send messages, etc. This also prevents smearing the screen with oils from one's fingers. Styluses may also be used for handwriting, or for drawing using
graphics tablet A graphics tablet (also known as a digitizer, digital graphic tablet, pen tablet, or digital art board) is a computer input device In computing, an input device is a piece of equipment used to provide data and control signals to an information ...
s. Many new phones have a built-in stylus which tucks in behind the back cover. Some styluses may extend and contract into small, pen-like cylinders, which are easy to put away. Styluses come in both passive and active versions. A passive or capacitive stylus is a stylus that acts just like a finger when touching a device screen. There is no electronic communication between a passive stylus and a device, and the device treats the stylus the same as a finger. Passive styluses are considered less accurate that active styluses. An active stylus includes electronic components that communicate with a device's touchscreen controller, or digitizer. Active pens are typically used for note taking, on-screen drawing/painting, and electronic document annotation. They help prevent the problem of one's fingers or hands accidentally contacting the screen. As in ancient styluses, the stylus is pointed or rounded at one end and is made to fit in the grip of a hand comfortably. These styluses can be found in many different styles. Since many modern tablets make use of multi-touch recognition, some stylus and app manufactures have created palm rejection technologies into their products. This works to turn off the multi-touch feature allowing the palm to rest on the tablet while still recognizing the stylus. Other than the types above, a haptic stylus is a stylus that simulates, through
haptic technology Haptic technology, also known as kinaesthetic communication or 3D touch, refers to any technology that can create an experience of touch The somatosensory system is a part of the sensory nervous system. The somatosensory system is a complex ...
, realistic physical sensations which can be felt while writing on paper. The sensation is sometimes enhanced by the combination of auditory and tactile illusions, such as with RealPen.RealPen
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Scientific instruments

A stylus is also an instrument used to scribe a recording into smoked foil or glass. In various scientific instruments this method may be employed 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 nearly negligible friction in comparison to other methods. These characteristics were useful in certain types of early
seismograph A seismometer is an instrument that responds to ground motions, such as caused by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and explosions. Seismometers are usually combined with a timing device and a recording device to form a seismograph. The output of ...
s and in recording
barograph A barograph is a barometer that records the barometric pressure over time in graphical form. This instrument is also used to make a continuous recording of atmospheric pressure. The pressure-sensitive element, a partially evacuated metal cylinde ...
s that were once used to verify
sailplane A glider or sailplane is a type of glider aircraft used in the leisure activity and sport of gliding (also called soaring). This unpowered aircraft can use naturally occurring currents of rising air in the atmosphere to gain altitude. Sailplan ...

sailplane
records. The styluses used in
scanning tunneling microscope A scanning tunneling microscope (STM) is a type of microscope used for imaging surfaces at the atom An atom is the smallest unit of ordinary matter In classical physics and general chemistry, matter is any substance that has mass and ...
s have only a single
atom An atom is the smallest unit of ordinary matter In classical physics and general chemistry, matter is any substance that has mass and takes up space by having volume. All everyday objects that can be touched are ultimately composed of ato ...

atom
at the tip; these are effectively the sharpest styluses possible.


See also

*
Active pen An active pen (also referred to as active stylus) is an input device that includes electronic components and allows users to write directly onto the display of a computing device such as a smartphone A smartphone is a portable device A mo ...
* Digital ink * List of pen types, brands and companies *
Slate and stylus The slate and stylus are tools used by blind persons to write text that they can read without assistance.Alpha Chi Omega (1908) Invented by Charles Barbier as the tool for writing night writing, the slate and stylus allow for a quick, easy, conv ...


References

{{Pens Writing implements