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<   No. 323   2003-12-14   >

Comic #323

1 Shakespeare: Ophelia, can you pass me a pencil, please?
2 Ophelia: Sure, Will. 2B or not 2B?
3 {silent beat}
4 Shakespeare: Get thee to a punnery!

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zem complained last time he contributed a gag that I didn't acknowledge him and therefore deprived him of 15 minutes of Internet fame. So yea verily, blame him for the pencil gag. The last panel is all me, baby.

I was going to have Shakespeare speak in panel 3, saying, "Oh dear, Ophelia, that was bad," but when I was putting it together I realised this was the perfect place to use the Silent Beat.

2012-11-09 Rerun commentary: I actually don't know if Americans would get the pencil joke. I've discovered that, like just about everything else, the USA uses a different system to the rest of the world to describe pencils as well.

A standard hardness pencil, known as an HB pencil pretty much everywhere in the world, is instead called a #2 pencil in the USA. The H/B system uses "H" to mean "hard" and "B" to mean "black". Really hard pencils are labelled with a number followed by "H", the higher the number the harder the pencil. So 6H is harder than 2H. Soft ("black") pencils are labelled with a number follows by "B", the higher the number the softer the pencil. So 6B is softer and blacker than 2B. And HB is smack in the middle, both moderately hard for good wearing properties and moderately black for good marking properties. Technical drawers tend to use harder pencils, while fine artists tend to use blacker pencils.

But in the USA, this is replaced by a single numerical grade, ranging from #1 (equivalent to B) to #4 (equivalent to 2H). As far as I can find, there are no pencils outside this range in the American system, so 2B pencils may not even exist in the USA! (Actually, I suspect they must, otherwise artists would go crazy. I don't know how they're labelled, though.)

UPDATE: An even dozen Americans have written emails about pencils, and several more have commented in various online forums. The gist is that the H/B system certainly exists in the USA, commonly being used for art pencils and mechanical pencils. The #1 to #4 scale is limited to "office" pencils - the sort you buy in office supply or stationery stores. What's more, nearly everyone said the only # graded pencil they've ever seen is the ubiquitous #2, and they weren't even aware there were such things as #1 or #4 pencils. And often the #2 will also be labelled as HB.

So there you go. Normally I like to impart knowledge, but today,thanks to you, I learnt something!

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Last Modified: Friday, 9 November 2012; 13:17:03 PST.
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