My Life Habit With Pens. Seriously.

[Location:  Chemistry Class.  Time:  A certain week in March when there is a Chemistry lesson.  The students are about to make corrections for the somewhat abysmal piece of homework that apparently needs correcting.  Ms. L sits in front of the classroom, keeping a watchful eye as we all take out our pens.  The voice of a boy broke the silence.]

“Do you have a green pen?”

Ms. L suddenly stops, and stares at the boy as if what he said were a completely foreign concept to her.  “Why must you use a green pen for corrections?”

“Because I only have black and blue pens.”

“Then use the colour that you didn’t use for your homework.  What’s with you students using such colourful pens for multiple purposes that I cannot understand?”

Good question.  Let’s talk about this.

I’ve been studying at this school since kindergarten, which is a good fourteen years.  The first time I ever had a legitimate excuse to use a pen, not to mention a coloured pen (I liked colourful stuff), was in first grade, when our Math teacher told us to take out a green pen (she emphasised on “green”) to do corrections when we had our first Math test three weeks into the school year.  Being an era when pencils were not only the jam, but also the only things that really existed, my classmates and I were more than excited to finally use something different.  A greepen!  And when we did our corrections, with the green ink marked on the paper filled with messy pencil scribbles and big, angry red crosses, it just looked official.

Green ink looked important.

The next week, when we had our Chinese test, we also ended up to be a pathetic group of Chinese kids who could not get 100% on the “spelling” test (it technically isn’t spelling, but I don’t have another word to use).  And so our teacher said, “好,大家把绿笔拿出来,做改正!” (Translation: 绿笔 means green pen, and 改正 means corrections.  You get the idea.)  Emphasis made the difference.

So as we grew up, we continued to use green pens for our correction, much like how teachers continued using red pens to mark our work.  The idea of “green pens equals correction pen” was so deeply ingrained in our minds that when new teachers used a foreign green ink to mark our work, we would absolutely lose our marbles.  When we had to resort to purples or pinks or even reds to do our corrections, it somehow didn’t look right.  We needed green, to the point that it never even occurred to me that green ink didn’t mean anything in reality.

I guess it’s like that one scene in Brave New World.  I don’t remember exactly what happened in that scene, but I do remember it involving making babies believe that flowers are scary objects because the babies were exposed to flowers in the midst of a (controlled) thunderstorm that scared them out of their shins.  Probably because we thought that a green pen would look so damn official on a piece of paper at a young age, like it would somehow bring the paper to life, that we were so obsessed with the idea that green pens were the bomb.  I don’t know, because as the years progressed purple looked nice too.  But it looked flat.  Enough about green pens.

If green pens looked official to us as kids, then is there any reason why teachers use red pens in particular?  I don’t know whether or not that’s the case for college professors and whatnot, but it was definitely the case for (most of) my teachers throughout my primary and secondary school careers.  Like the green pens, these looked official…until my Chinese teacher asked me yesterday, “为什么我们一定要用红笔?”  (Why must we use red pens?)

Are these even supposed to mean anything?

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One thought on “My Life Habit With Pens. Seriously.

  1. This amuses me greatly. One of the first things I found surprising about the school was the notion that green pens meant correction. Previously, I had rarely if ever done correction, and even then, generally in whatever pen/pencil was handy. I hadn’t even seen a green pen before. I guess that was why when another teacher started marking in green, I didn’t get unsettled by it like everyone else did.

    Red being used for marking seems pretty universal, though, which is rather surprising and suggests that there is probably some meaning to it besides an arbitrarily assigned colour for a task. I imagine it has to do with setting up contrast. Red is the most eye-catching colour, and thus good for marking. I never did understand why [teacher] insisted on marking in green, because it’s not eye-catching at all.

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