Black as Ink

A phrase in the book I’m reading slapped me in the face. It wasn’t a literal slap, of course, but the phrase was so incongruous that it took me out of the story as surely as a slap would have done. What was this brutal simile? It wasn’t anything special, to be honest. In fact, it’s so common as to seem almost invisible, but I noticed it.

As black as ink.

That’s it. Not a big deal, right? And yet, when was the last time you saw pure black ink? For me, it was decades ago, when I bought some calligraphy supplies with the thought of learning how to do fancy lettering. That ink truly was black, totally opaque, without a hint of light or any other color. Even back then, black wasn’t the only ink available for calligraphic needs, or any needs. My mother used a fountain pen for many years, and that ink was blue. When I was in school, perhaps middle-school age, cartridge pens were all the rage, and I used the peacock ink. Such a gorgeous color! And not black.

Nowadays any ink we see is generally in ballpoint pens, and although black used to be the prevalent color, blue now seems to be preferred for official documents, which is odd to me. Doesn’t blue tend to fade into the “blue nowhere” of computer screens? And yet, any bank document or other official paper I’ve had to sign recently required a blue signature.

I once had a multitude of pens with bright non-black colors. I just checked my ballpoint pen stash, and I have a red ink pen as well as a green one, though the green is dried up. So, since I tossed it out, I guess I can’t count green among ink colors. Nor can I count purple, though once I had a ballpoint pen with that color ink that I used up.

There are still a lot of pens around with black ink, though none of those inks are truly black. Some are charcoal, some are rather translucent with a tinge of blue or red, others are a muddy black, and some are licorice color (which is a very, very dark brown unless one is talking about red licorice).

Some printers do use ink instead of toner, and again, there are more colors available — and necessary — than black. My printer uses cyan, magenta, and yellow, which along with the black, can create just about any shade or hue of any color.

If the book had kept my interest, this rather inoffensive though clichéd simile would have passed unnoticed, so that’s two strikes against the author — ill-chosen words and a less than compelling story.

I’m just glad that people who read my books are kinder than I am, and refrain from pointing out my own literary faux pas. I do try to remove anything I would not like to see in a book, but some phrases are so common as to be invisible — such as “black as ink” — so who knows what cringeworthy phrases are buried in all my rhetoric.


What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God

4 Responses to “Black as Ink”

  1. Marion Marchetto Says:

    Hi Pat, like you I grew up with pens that used real ink. Started out with fountain pens that had to be refilled from bottles of ink. Only two choices back then – black (real black) and a very dark blue. Remember coming home from school with my fingers covered in ink as well. Our teachers corrected our written work with a red pencil. Thanks for the memories.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      My mother used the dark blue ink, and the ballpoint pens we used back then all had blue ink that was a shade lighter. For many years, I never even knew there was such a thing as black ink.

  2. Uthayanan Says:

    As far as I am 60+ years. I had the same experience. I kept my fountain pen for a long time. I still keep my black ink bottle somewhere!
    I have stopped writing letters except post cards when internet mail available and cheap. I have continued for some time with my bank check and official documents until it allowed. Now I use bold point pen and ink pen with different technology.
    Your blog make me to buy again one fountain pen in Paris if it is still possible and I believe if I can’t find my pen in working condition to write again.

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