Revisited Myth #132: A shot glass was originally a small glass filled with lead buckshot to use as a pen holder.October 15, 2017
A tour guide wrote in to ask about the origins of “shot glass.” She’d heard it said that the phrase referred to its use as a pen holder. Filled with buckshot, it would keep the ink on the pen nib wet. I couldn’t determine it’s validity, so I threw it out to the universe, so to speak, and the universe answered. Sort of.
Blog reader Noah Briggs pointed out, “As for using them as pen holders, this is total baloney. After being used, quill and steel nib pens were wiped clean with a pen wiper and laid on a rack horizontally, because leaving them vertically in an ink pot (or the mythical “buckshot” in a shot glass) will bend and damage the tip, thus disrupting the flow of ink down the crevice and onto the tip and thus onto the paper. If you need to keep your ink wet, you dipped your pen into the inkwell. After all, that was its function.”
And thanks to Deborah Brower, a calligrapher, who adds, “Leaving your wet pen nib in a glass full of lead shot would be no different than leaving it on a table. The ink would dry on the nib and most likely ruin it. Even if it kept it moist, it would cause the nib to rust. You always clean you pen when you are done.”
The statement is a myth.
So what is the origin of the term? The word “shot” (according to Webster’s Merriam Dictionary) means “A small measure or serving (as one ounce) of undiluted liquor or other beverage [vodka shot], [a shot of expresso].” A glass for a shot of liquor, or shot glass, is merely that.
Yes, YOU are the stars! And I’m stumped.
Here are two myths heard at museums that came to me via this blog. I’m tapped out. Can anyone help?
1) This blog reader said a tour guide told them that the “shot glass” was “originally a small glass filled with lead buckshot to be used as a pen-holder. She explained that buckshot kept the ink on the pen nib wet, though I don’t see how it could be more moist than just leaving it in an inkwell. Every heard this one before?”
No. Sounds ridiculous to me but I cannot back that up.
2) The other myth the reader heard “seems like a very generalized assertion to answer a very specific question. I wanted to leave the site where I heard these myths anonymous, but in order to provide context, the link I am attaching here reveals its identity: http://www.rhdc.org/old-raleigh-post-office-early-office-building This building was identified as a Federal government building due to its architectural style–which is also wrong–and its color was explained by the guide as part of a color scheme assigned to different government buildings, in this case, a post office. The buildings were color coded in order to identify them to–you guessed it–illiterate citizens. So the big question with this myth is: have you ever heard of color-coded government buildings? I’d love to know how this notion might have gotten its start and how widespread it may be.
This seems like a variation of Myth #37, about shop signs being pictures because most people “in those days” were illiterate. I feel certain the color-coding statement isn’t true, but I can’t speak to its origins. Anyone?