AskDefine | Define stylus

Dictionary Definition



1 a sharp pointed device attached to the cartridge of a record player
2 a pointed tool for writing or drawing or engraving; "he drew the design on the stencil with a steel stylus" [syn: style] [also: styli (pl)]

User Contributed Dictionary



From stilus and στῦλος ("column", "pillar").



  1. A sharp stick used in ancient times for writing in clay tablets; a sharp tool for engraving.
  2. A phonograph needle.
  3. A small plastic stick used for writing on the touch sensitive screen of an electronic gadget.

Derived terms


a sharp stick
a phonograph needle
a small plastic stick

Extensive Definition

A stylus (plural: styli or styluses) is a writing utensil. The word is also used for a computer accessory (PDAs). It usually refers to a narrow elongated staff, similar to a modern ballpoint pen. Many styluses are heavily curved to be held more easily.
Styli were first used by the ancient Mesopotamians in order to write in cuneiform, usually made out of reeds that grew on the sides of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and in marshes and down to Egypt where the Egyptians used styluses from sliced reeds with sharp points. Cuneiform was entirely based on the "wedge-shaped" mark that the end of a cut reed made when pushed into a clay tablet, hence the name "cuneiform" from Latin cuneus = "wedge".


Styli were used from classical times until the nineteenth century to write on wax tablets (tabulae), which were used for various purposes, from secretaries' notes to recording accounts. Some wax-tablets have been preserved in waterlogged deposits, for example in the Roman fort at Vindolanda on Hadrian's Wall. One end of such styli was pointed for writing and the other was flattened into a broad shape for erasing.

Use in Arts

Styli are used in various arts and crafts still. Example situations: rubbing off dry transfer letters, tracing designs onto a new surface with carbon paper, and hand embossing. Styli are also used to engrave into materials like metal or clay.
Styli are used to make dots as found in folk art and mexican potterty artifacts. Oaxaca dot art is created using Styli.

Use in music recording and reproduction

In the sound recording industry, a stylus is a phonograph or gramophone needle used to play back sound on gramophone records, as well as to record the sound indentations on the master record.
Several technologies were used to record the sounds, beginning with wax cylinders. The harder the material used, the harder the stylus has to be. The styli for playing vinyl records are made out of Sapphire or diamond.

Modern use

Today, the term stylus often refers to an input method usually used in PDAs, graphics tablets, Tablet PCs, and UMPCs. In this method, a stylus that secretes no ink touches a touch screen instead of a finger to avoid getting the natural oil from one's hands on the screen. Styli are also used with the Nintendo DS handheld gaming device, which has two screens, the bottom one being touch-sensitive.
A stylus may also be used to scribe a recording into smoked foil or glass. In various instruments this method may be used 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 very small friction in comparison to other methods. These characteristics were useful in certain types of early seismographs and in recording barographs used in determining sailplane altitude records.
The sharpest stylus possible has a single atom at its tip. Such styli are used in scanning tunneling microscopes.


The word stylus along with the word "style" came from the Latin word stilus meaning: "a stake; a pointed instrument, used by the
stylus in Danish: Stylus
stylus in German: Griffel
stylus in Spanish: Estilete
stylus in French: Style (écriture)
stylus in Finnish: Osoitinkynä
stylus in Japanese: スタイラス
stylus in Dutch: Stylus
stylus in Norwegian: Griffel
stylus in Polish: Rysik
stylus in Russian: Грифель
stylus in Swedish: Griffel
stylus in Yiddish: ווייזערל

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Gramophone, PA, PA system, Victrola, audio sound system, audiophile, binaural system, bitch box, bullhorn, cartridge, ceramic pickup, changer, crystal pickup, derived four-channel system, discrete four-channel system, four-channel stereo system, hi-fi, hi-fi fan, high-fidelity, intercom, intercommunication system, jukebox, magnetic pickup, monaural system, mono, needle, nickelodeon, phonograph, photoelectric pickup, pickup, public-address system, quadraphonic sound system, radio-phonograph combination, record changer, record player, sound reproduction system, sound truck, squawk box, stereo, system, tape deck, tape recorder, tone arm, transcription turntable, turntable
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