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The Pen Is Mightier

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"How about a magic trick? I'm going to make this pencil disappear...TA-DA! It's... Ah, it's gone..."

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 to draw 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, an Art Attacker or a Mad Artist.

Easily confused with something Sean Connery has been searching all his life for.

Not to be confused with The Power of Language, which covers figurative uses of this phrase. Has nothing to do with a certain body part.

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 can imbue objects with lightning chakra to make it vibrate at high speeds (though it isn't unique to him) to turn any pointed object into a deadly weapon. He first shows this off by using the pencil he uses to write down his rap lyrics which he managed to throw through a tree trunk.
  • Pretty much any solid object within two meters of Lucy in Elfen Lied becomes a deadly implement because of her telekinetic vector abilities. This is first demonstrated with pens during the infamous escape scene.
  • During her stint as a schoolteacher, Yoko from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann manages to throw a piece of chalk so hard, it imbeds itself in the opposite wall. Nobody gets hurt, but damn if it doesn't make the kids focus on their work.
  • 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.
  • Death Note features a considerable amount of murder via pen, but not by stabbing, but rather Rewriting Reality. At least, until near the end when Teru Mikami uses his pen to commit suicide, with a truly ludicrous amount of blood.
  • 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 Complex Mimi 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.
  • 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.
    • Later in the light novels, Mikado stabs Aoba through the hand with a ballpoint pen.
  • In an early episode of Nabari no Ou, Raimei throws a handful of pencils at Miharu to test him. He, of course, didn't even notice.
  • In Shugo Chara!, Amu's "Amulet Spade" character transformation fights with a paintbrush.
  • Alone (Hades), the Big Bad from Saint Seiya: The Lost Canvas, occasionally uses his painting brush for close combat fighting, which is not all that necessary considering his Physical God status.
  • In One Piece, Mad Monk Urouge wields something that looks like a stone column. Word of God says that it's a pencil and he is looking for a sharpener.
    • While it's not always clear whether Oda is being serious when he answers fan questions, the One Piece world is wacky enough that this could actually be true.
  • In the A Certain Magical Index movie Miracle of Endymion, Mallybath Blackball wields a magic quill pen that gives her Dishing Out Dirt powers.
  • In Kannazuki no Miko, Reiko Ota telekinetically throws fountain pens that explode when they hit their targets.
  • Episode 14 of Psycho-Pass opens when a criminal wearing a helmet that throws off the Psycho-Pass scanners walks into a pharmacy and stabs a pharmacist in the mouth with a pair of scissors and then kills a second pharmacist by stabbing her in the femoral artery with a ballpoint pen. When police arrive at the crime scene, the forensics drones end up digging out multiple pens out of the female victim's body.
  • 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.
  • Blood+: David uses this trope to hold Van Argiano hostage.
  • In the finale of the Anime adaptation of Grisaia no Kajitsu, Yuuji, mortally wounded, uses a golden pen on a desk to kill his Arch-Enemy, Heath Oslo - a technique Oslo taught him.
  • Ichibe from Bleach uses Ichimonji, a massive calligraphy brush that can alter the fabric of reality by changing the names of people and objects.

     Comic Books  
  • Bullseye in Daredevil used pencils, among many other things, as darts to kill people.
  • In one of the Halloween comics by Chaos! Comics, a young Michael Myers gouged out a fellow mental patient's eye with a crayon.
  • "Ink", a henchman in the Garth Ennis Punisher MAX series got his nickname because he killed a man with a pen.
    Larry: Stabbed him in the neck?
  • 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 Death Vigil, Starlock is Clara's veilripper, and it takes the form of a quill pen. Clara finds out that she can draw wherever she wants with it, but she later finds out its true potential to Think Up Portals and tap into and fix other people's memories (although the latter ability is hinted to be her ability, not the veilripper's). In addition, like all veilrippers, it can be used to seal necromancers' powers.


  • In Batman (1989), 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 The Dark Knight, The Joker's "magic trick" involves making a pencil disappear...into the eye of one of the Gotham Mob's thugs. Eraser end first.
  • In the Wuxia film Brothers Five, one of the five titular brothers is a Warrior Poet scholar whose preferred weapon is a long Chinese brush with razor-sharp bristles, which he used to kill more than 20 mooks throughout the movie.
  • During the tank battle of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indy's father uses his fountain pen to spray a German soldier in the face to blind him. Brody follows up by quoting the classic phrase.
  • In the climax of the film Red Eye, the heroine surprises the antagonist holding her captive with a well-aimed pen through the throat.
  • During the opening flashback detailing Danny Greene's life in Kill the Irishman, Danny's shown being stabbed in the hand by bullies, and keep in mind that he and said bullies are high school age at best.
  • In Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, Final Girl Rennie manages to fend Jason off at one point by stabbing him in the eye with an ink pen (that is claimed in-universe to be Stephen King's).
  • In Grosse Pointe Blank Martin uses a fountain pen a high school friend gave him to finish off an assassin.
  • The Bourne Identity: Jason 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.
  • Joe Pesci kills a man this way in Casino. Rather disgusting to watch.
  • The eponymous character in Psycho Cop Returns kills one of his victims with a pencil to the eye, and tells him to "keep an eye out" afterwards.
  • 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.
  • James Bond
    Bond: They always said the pen was mightier than the sword.
    Q: Thanks to me, they were right!
  • In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Sarah Connor taunts her shrink about having previously stabbed him in the knee with a pen.
  • In Holla If You Hear Me, a man is stabbed in the head with a pencil, while one of the killers gets a pen in the neck.
  • A character gets a crayon in the eye in The Children.
  • 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.
  • In White House Down, President Sawyer stabs the Big Bad with a pen. Sawyer did a poor job of it, though, getting him in the shoulder as opposed to the jugular, and the Big Bad fought him off.
  • When Viggo is impressing on Iosef just how deadly John is in John Wick, he mentions he once saw John kill three men in a bar with a pencil. The improbability of this is lampshaded by Abram in John Wick: Chapter 2 ("A pencil. How the fuck do you do that?!"), and later in the film, John kills two assassins with a pencil when they attack him for the seven million dollar bounty on him posted by Santino.
    • Notably, the pencil killing is one of the most gruesome ones shown on-screen, with John pinning one assassin's head against a bartop and then driving the pencil through his ear canal like a railway spike. With the second one, he plats and holds the pencil against a wall and slams the back of the assassin's head against it.
  • In Stoker, India stabs a bully with her pencil when he tries to grab her. When she pulls away, the tip is covered in blood.


  • 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.
  • Played with in Percy Jackson and the Olympians; the title character has a pen that turns into a sword.
  • Calligraphy brushes are commonly used as weapon in Wuxia genre by fighters who specialized in hitting Pressure Points, since all they have to do is hit at the right spot.
  • Maximum Security, the third book in the CHERUB Series, has Lauren fighting off and seriously injuring an attacker with the first thing she could grab—a hotel biro.
  • The ghost in the Stephen King short story Sneakers died from being stabbed in the eye with a pencil.
    • In Cell, the Headmaster dies when the nearby flock of phoners forces him to ram a pen through his eye into his brain.
  • In Worm the Number Man threatens to inflict a Shatterpoint Tap on someone's skull with a pen.

     Live Action TV  

  • Firefly: The "R. Tam Sessions", a series of videos from River's time at the Academy, showing her in a series of "interviews" with a "counselor" that chronicles her gradual descent into madness. The first video (which is the second half of the last session) shows her counselor collapsing after having been stabbed in the throat with a pen. The last video is of her seeming to be remarkably lucid and clear, and her last words before the video cuts out is her asking for a pen to write something down. Whether this is due to her madness, being ordered to do this by her "handlers," or simply River striking out at her tormentors in the only way she can manage is up in the air.
  • 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.
  • Battlestar Galactica
    • Felix Gaeta, sent to talk to Gaius Baltar in the latter's prison cell, tries to kill Baltar with a pen instead, stabbing him in the neck but missing the carotid artery. Later on, during his trial, when, after Gaeta 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".
  • Heroes:
    • Sylar crucifies Isaac against his own painting of the future, using his own paintbrushes, before he kills him.
    • He also has Claire telekinetically pinned to a sofa as he taunts her and then kisses her, she retaliates by grabbing a pen and stabs him right in the eye.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
    • In "Choices" a vampire corners Willow in a supply room. She uses her telekinetic powers to raise a pencil and stake him.
    • In "Band Candy" Giles is making Buffy rehearse for her SAT tests during graveyard patrol when a vampire attacks them. She stakes it with her pencil, then cheerfully points out that it's broken, so she can't do the questionnaire. Giles calmly produces another pencil.
  • Also in the spinoff Angel.
    Spike: I had a wee spat with a werewolf myself once. Fought for over an hour! Brutal. Vicious. I almost lost my—
    Fred: Angel killed him with a pen.
  • 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...
  • Kamen Rider Fourze has, among his bag of tricks, a giant ink brush that appears on his right foot. At first he was ready to write it off as useless, but his friends discovered that the ink quickly solidifies into a metallic substance. So far he's used it to "draw" barriers and to block a Monster of the Week's petrification beam. And to draw Santa's sled during the Christmas Episode.
  • In the Prison Season of My Name Is Earl, while Earl was narrating this notion, an inmate stabs another inmate in the back with a pen.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • CSI: In "Cat's in the Cradle'', it is discovered that the Victim of the Week was stabbed to death with a glitter pen.
  • Midsomer Murders: In "Death by Persuasion", the first Victim of the Week is stabbed in the neck with a poisoned quill pen.
  • Daredevil (2015): Benjamin "Dex" Poindexter uses a pencil to wound Mitchell Ellison during his attack on the New York Bulletin.

     New Media  

     Newspaper Comics  

  • One FoxTrot strip had Jason apply this trope in his D&D games by arming his warrior with a pen. Marcus' character immediately cuts him down.


  • 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.")

     Professional Wrestling  

     Stand Up Comedy  

  • 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.

     Tabletop Games  

  • 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.
  • In Warhammer: Age of Sigmar and Warhammer 40,000, the Blue Scribe P’tarix is unable to use the magic that he catalogues so in battle he stabs his enemies with sharpened quills made from the feathers of a Lord of Change.

     Video Games  

  • 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.
  • Final Fantasy VI: Relm kills people with both her brush and her drawings.
  • In the second Manhunt game, Danny and Leo can both equip ballpoint pens, and make good use of them. Stealth kills with them involve gouging out eyes and giving people new breathing holes.
  • Hangan in Onmyōji, who fights with a giant calligraphy brush.
  • 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.
  • Ma Dai from Dynasty Warriors 7 uses a giant paintbrush as a weapon.
  • Nogiku from Sengoku Rance uses a pen in battle. Granted, that pen is about the same size of a spear...
  • In World 3 of Fancy Pants Adventures, Fancy Pants Man takes Brad Borne's pencil and uses it to collapse an otherwise Broken Bridge. It's surprisingly effective compared to the local ninjas and pirates, who use actual swords.
    • Fancy Pants is a playable character in the game Newgrounds Rumble, where he has his pencil as his weapon of choice.
  • In Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura 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.
  • The dictator Pagan Min in Far Cry 4 kills an underperforming soldier with a fountain pen in his Establishing Character Moment. If the player obtains it later in the game, it's revealed to be specially reinforced to double as a weapon.
  • Mitama from Fire Emblem Fates proclaims it is "the mightiest of all!" during one of her critical hit quotes. Fitting, as she's an avid haiku poet.
  • Project Zomboid is that rare game that allows the player to wield a normal, everyday pen (or pencil) as a weapon, and does it with a completely straight face. This works about as well as you would expect against a pack of zombies: It only connects at grappling range, and it's pretty much guaranteed to break on the first stab. Fortunately, the choice of Improvised Weapons only gets better from there.
  • Parodied in Amorphous+. As an achievement says, there is no pen, and the sword is really big.
  • Splatoon, with its love of Art Attackers and Improbable Weapons, takes this to its logical conclusion: The Ballpoint Splatling, first introduced in Splatoon 2, turns the pen into a gun. More specifically, a gun of the Gatling Good variety, with the unique ability to switch between close- and long- range fire while shooting. Presumably, someone wanted to see what happens when you combine this trope with the other weapon that's mightier than the sword.

     Visual Novels  
     Web Comics  

     Web Original  

  • Spoofed by Tobuscus in this video, in which he patents a gun with a pen bayonet.
  • CollegeHumor: In the "Font Conference" video, featuring personifications of Word document text fonts, French Script is a bit of a French Jerk who immediately offers up his seat when he's interjected by Rage Italic, an angry German wearing lederhosen.
  • In Hitler Rants, Hitler's "Pencil of Doom and Mass Destruction" is capable of, by banging it on his table with a map, doing anything from making people fall comically down to blowing up planets.

     Western Animation  

     Real Life  
  • According to one wartime reporter, pens are just sharp enough to pierce skin, but just dull enough to really freaking hurt.
  • The 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.
  • 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, and that's not to mention the poisonous 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 teachers and students know 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.
  • In Hull Univeristy, UK, a jealous student stabbed his female friend in the head, mouth and throat about 90 times, killing her.
  • Any blunt, strong-built pen or marker, even if that pen is not a tactical pen, can be used as a Kubotan or Yawara stick.


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