You know, they weren't joking when they said the pen was mightier than the sword. Or the pencil. Or the paintbrush. In the proper hands any writing tool can become a truly deadly weapon, and earns extra badass points for the user at the same time - especially if used against an opponent with one of those piddling "real" weapons.
Typically, the writing tool will be used as a stabbing weapon, aimed for the head, throat, or chest. Occasionally it may be used as a throwing weapon. The pen or pencil may be used for more than just stabbing however; for example, an inkpen may be used to spray ink in the face of an attacker.
Paint brushes being used to write spells and curses on opponents are common in eastern works; most popular depictions of this are derived from a Chinese folktale about a boy who could bring paintings to life when he signed them. An evil emperor would force the boy into drawing him vast riches and he would instead conjure a dragon or tsunami to kill the emperor, depending on the telling.
Bonus points if, after the pen is used, someone makes a snarky comment on the pen's superiority.
A subtrope of Improvised Weapon. May be used by an Improbable Weapon User, a Combat Pragmatist, or a Mad Artist.
Easily confused with somethingSean Connery has been searching all his life for.
Compare Once Killed a Man with a Noodle Implement.
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Parodied in a Geico ad series which mocks Stock Phrases. In this particular sketch, "Is the pen mightier than the sword?", a ninja brandishes his sword. The camera changes to a guy signing for a package with a pen. He opens the package and removes a taser, which takes the ninja out instantly.
Anime & Manga
In Hot Gimmick Ryoki saves Hatsumi from being raped by Azusa's gang by throwing one of them to the ground, sitting on top of them and threatening to drive a pen through his cheek (since the guys are models, this would ruin his career as well as being fucking agonizing). When Azusa thinks he's bluffing, Ryoki scratches the guy's face to show he's serious. He doesn't end up having to do it though.
Killer Bee of Naruto is capable of using electricity and vibrations to turn any pointed object into a deadly weapon, including the pencil he uses to write down lyrics which he managed to throw through a tree trunk.
In Monster, when the conversation veers towards Johan, a serial killer ends an interview with his psychologist with a pen. The psychologist gets away with a scare, but not for lack of success on the other man's part...
Tenma also uses a ballpoint pen to save himself from a group of Neo-Nazis.
In the Battle Royale manga, Shogo Kawada managed to finally kill the director Yomeni Kamon with a pencil by stabbing at his throat.
In episode 20 of Lovely ComplexMimi nearly stabs Risa through the hand with a mechanical pencil.
In Love Hina, Motoko manages to block a full-on katana slash with Keitaro's studyin' pencil. Maybe because it's full of his hopes and dreams, as she claims - or maybe some of his peculiar invincibility just soaked in over the years.
In Durarara!!, Seiji stabs Shizuo with pens in both knees and through his palm. Shizuo shrugs it off, and walks away wondering if he'll need a band-aid.
At some point in Futaba-kun Change! a member of martial arts calligraphy club demonstrates blocking a sword with his calligraphy brush. An explanation follows that the brush is made of steel and this particular martial art was developed back when such random attacks on calligraphists were common.
In the Batman story "Video Nasties", a heavily injured, bedridden teenager manages to grab a pen and stab a villain who was holding a woman hostage. It distracts the villain long enough for Batman to take him out.
In the 1989 Batman, Joker declares that "The pen is truly mightier than the sword!" after he kills one of Grissom's allies by stabbing a really sharp ink quill into the man's throat.
In Grosse Pointe Blank Martin uses a fountain pen a high school friend gave him to finish off an assassin.
In the first of the Jason Bourne films, Bourne surprises a knife-wielding assassin with a pen to the hand, causing him to drop the knife.
A non-lethal version occurs in The Running Man when a jerkass attorney gets Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign some documents before he's led off to certain death. There's no table so he tells Arnie to use his back. Arnie signs the documents, then puts in the full stop by stabbing the pen into the lawyer's back, causing him to run off screaming (with the pen still stuck in him) with Arnie commenting "Don't forget to send me a copy."
In Death Race, Lists stabs a thug in the back with his pen during a fight, providing the vital distraction that allows the hero to turn the tide of the fight.
The eponymous character in Psycho Cop Returns kills one of his victims with a pencil into the eye.
The protagonist of The Lost Empire (also known as The Monkey King) acquires a magical pen that can expand into a sword. The trope title is in fact referenced, though in practice the sword-form is mightier.
The final conflict in A Song Is Born is resolved not by guns, but by music.
In 30 Minutes or Less, The Major has a pen gun. After he uses up its only bullet, he tries to stab a man with it.
Discworld: Ankh-Morpork Patrician Olaf Quimby II had his reign ended when he was killed by a disgruntled poet during an experiment to test the truth of the saying "The pen is mightier than the sword". In his memory, it was amended to read: "The pen is mightier than the sword only if the sword is very small and the pen is very sharp."
In one book, a Running Gag is a vampire who keeps filing personal-injury complaints against his employers. Apparently he chose to work in places such as a holy water dispensary, a garlic farm, and a pencil factory.
In 24, Kim Bauer deals with a woman who is holding her hostage by stabbing her in the leg with a pen. Said woman is then shot by the police.
In the revived Battlestar Galactica, Felix Gaeta, asking Gaius Baltar about the path to Earth in the latter's prison cell, tries to kill Baltar with a pen, stabbing him in the neck, but missing the carotid artery. This leads to something of a Crowning Moment of Funny on Baltar's part during his trial, when, after Felix perjures himself on the stand, Baltar says (or more accurately, screams), "The whole fleet knows this man tried to stab me through the neck — and you missed! Butterfingers!"
This is played with later, when in the fourth-act scene after Gaeta stabs Baltar, he asks someone for a pen. It's believed that after the incident with Baltar, Gaeta has been forbidden to carry pens on his person.
Battlestar likes this trope. During The Mutiny Arc, Romo Lampkin stabs a marine with a pen. The first thing he does after that? He reclaims the sunglasses that the marine took from him and refers to the now-dead marine as his "pen-pal".
In Heroes, Sylar crucifies Isaac against his own painting of the future, using his own paintbrushes, before he kills him.
In an episode of Burn Notice, Michael escapes a room full of bad guys using only a pencil. How? He holds it against the bad guys' leader's neck, and threatens to puncture the guy's artery unless they let him go.
In The Lost Room, one of the Objects is a pen which can microwave people, which a small-time crime boss uses to enforce order.
Get Smart - Max sticks a sword-wielding KAOS agent with a pen carrying a paralysis drug, and says...well, you know...
A season 5 episode of The Avengers has John Steed shrunk to the point he can use a penholder as a spear, striking at baddies' ankles to distract them before Ms Peel attacks.
Steed: The pen is mightier than the sword.
Peel: Well, between us we've written them off.
The MythBusters had to put Q of James Bond fame (see above) to the test. They loaded up a few pens with explosives. A conventional pen proved surprisingly lethal, creating a hole roughly twice the size of a fist in a dummy, but did not work as it did in the film. The team then tried a fairly large pen such as the type companies give as swag with their logos. It removed a dummy's arms and upper torso. James Hyneman then loaded up an absurdly large novelty pen - the kind over a foot long and several inches in circumference - with explosives. The results were predictable.
Ask a Ninja mentions a samurai who killed himself with a pen while signing up to become a samurai.
Sega Pinball's GoldenEye has the "Q's Pen" mode, where you must hit the target three times to detonate Bond's exploding pen from the film.
Role Playing Games
A Hero System supplement magazine once gave instructions/stats for running "Hack Writing" as a (none-too-serious) Martial Art. It originated when an ancient messenger, facing execution for being the bearer of bad news, decided to take someone with him and used his stylus as a weapon. Organizations such as The Brotherhood of the Pen use specially-crafted writing implements designed for maximum damage. Special maneuvers include "Cut & Paste" ("The writer cuts his victim's legs out from under him and then pastes him one."); "Narrative Hook" ("The writer simply reaches out and grabs his target."); and "Writer's Block", a defensive measure. ("The first maneuver taught to hack writers. Some are so skilled with it that it's all they do.")
Eddie Izzard talks about an alleged Awesome, but Impractical self-defence manoeuvre that involves pushing a pen between an assailant's middle and ring fingers and squeezing their fingers together.
After Deadlands: Hell on Earth was released, there was a push to make the Librarians from Smart Guys with no real role in combat into badass bookworms, including the development of entirely new arcana. One such supernatural ability, aptly named the Pen is Mightier than the Sword, turns writing implements into deadly weapons. At its highest level, a magical pen does almost as much damage as a Laser Blade, and is better at defense!
Pathfinder features not a pen but an iron brush. It is a weaponized scholar's brush in an Asian-themed setting, where any person of refinement or education is expected to know some calligraphy. It's really not a great weapon mechanically aside from being easily concealed, but it can kill and be enchanted, plus a clever player can certainly find uses for a weapon which allows them to appear to be an unarmed scholar or aristocrat.
Beryl Benito, Tales of Hearts, has to get extra credit. Her Empathic Weapon is a massive paintbrush, taller than she is, which is waved at the enemy, applied to their faces, drawn magic circles with, or simply used as a heavy bludgeoning instrument. In a skit, she even declares that "They say 'the brush is mightier than the sword'!"
Shirley from Tales of Legendia uses feather pens as her weapons of choice, but lacks any artes that actually make direct use of them.
In the second Manhunt game, Danny and Leo can both equip ballpoint pens, and make good use of them, using them in some of the most brutal stealth kills of all time, gouging out eyes and giving people new breathing holes.
Imaginary-Barry in Alan Wake: The Signal DLC quotes/lampshades this after Alan takes out a wave of Taken. Granted, words in typewriter-font are utilized throughout the game, but It Makes Sense in Context.
In Arcanum you can buy a newspaper report detailing a murder in which the victim was stabbed to death with a quill. Justified by the fact that the chief suspect is a doctor with an expert knowledge of anatomy as well as Arcanum's master trainer in the Back Stab skill.
In the Metalocalypse episode 'Performance Klok', the band's therapist calls his old band to gloat about how he's in a new one... the scene changes to several cobweb-covered skeletons, one of which has his monogrammed pen sticking out of an eyesocket.
An episode The Simpsons had Homer try to stab a representative of PBS with a bank pen. The chain was too short.
In Tom And Jerry Kids, a villain once effortlessly parried Droopy's sword attacks with a quill pen, boasting, "The pen is mightier than the sword!" Droopy nonchalantly countered by chucking a water balloon at him.
The Officeguns.com Super Maul can shoot pens through a soda can. It can be built from standard office supplies.
An Improvised Weapon technique taught to CIA agents during the Cold War involved a pencil jutting out from between the knuckles of a fist, rammed upward through the soft part of the jawbone into the brain.
Gaius Julius Caesar stabbed one of his assassins with his stylus (a pointy thing for writing on wax tablets) before dying.
It's no knife, but a fountain pen does have a blade-like writing tip. Get stabbed in a large vein or artery like the jugular and it can be deadly, no doubt. Not to mention the, uh, negative effects of ink on the body's cells.
Averting this trope is why patients in mental asylums are given chalk or crayons for writing and drawing, not pens or pencils, though many a teacher knows how a thrown chalk can hurt.
Tactical pens sold by many self-defense websites are designed to be much more durable than a garden-variety ballpoint pen so they can be used more effectively as a stabbing weapon. They still write, though.