One thing I find interesting (because I'm that sort of person) is to look up words that I already know in the dictionary. Not just words that I know, but words that "everybody" knows. Words that nobody needs explained, which one assumes are only in the dictionaries because dictionaries are supposed to be relatively complete. And sometimes when I do that, I find that what everybody knows is, if not wrong, at least incomplete.

We all know what a nib is. It's that pointy piece of metal at the end of your fountain pen with the slot down the middle. Or perhaps it's the similar piece that's part of a dip pen, although in that case, according to some, the "nib" actually is the pen, and fits into a pen holder so you can write with it.

Hmm, how about the tip of a Pilot Parallel, which has two parallel plates close together, rather than a slot down the center. It's still a fountain pen, but does it have a nib? Let's ask the dictionaries.

The American Heritage Dictionary was the first real dictionary I owned, and my 1969 edition has followed me around since childhood. According to it, a nib is the point of a quill pen, especially when sharpened, or a pen point designed to be inserted in a pen holder. That might not even include fountain pens at all, depending on how you interpret the second sense.

Webster's Unabridged gives a couple of relevant meanings including a pen point designed for insertion in a pen holder (although it says that is "chiefly British"). But it also says "the point of a pen, or either of its divisions". That's odd. Does that mean that the part on each side of the slot can separately be referred to as a nib? Or what divisions does this refer to? If each half of a nib is itself a nib, do your fountain and dip pens actually have two nibs? Do music nibbed pens have three nibs?

There are other meanings in there, by the way, such as the beak or bill of a bird, but let me not get too distracted. Although when I went to the Oxford English Dictionary, I found that one archaic meaning of nib is a junior or novice scholar.

But in the OED, although there are the meanings given in Webster's above, the first relevant definition is simply "a pen point". Given that a fine tipped ballpoint is at least as pointy as some fountain pen nibs with a generous blob of tipping material, and that a ball point has divisions (the ball and the tapered bit on the cartridge that it fits into), couldn't we say that a ballpoint has a nib? Even though the term "nib" existed long before the concept of the ballpoint.

Do ballpoints have nibs? How about felt tips?