This question will probably not be on your standardized test: Why are most pencils yellow? You won’t be able to answer that with a ballpoint pen, or a neon pink highlighter.

Let’s start with the word “pencil.” It comes from a Latin word meaning “little tail.” The writing instrument is made up of a casing that protects a solid pigment core. (By the way, pigment comes from the Latin pingere,” which means “to color or paint.”)

The stylus, a thin, metal stick made from lead, may have been the earliest pencil. This tool was used in ancient times for writing on wax tablets.

(Think you know what ACT or SAT is short for? You may be surprised, and amused. Here’s the answer.)

As for the ubiquitous and enigmatic No. 2, the answer is boring in its practicality. The number represents the hardness of the lead ― the lower the number, the softer the metal. Early machines that scanned and scored tests couldn’t detect marks made by hard pencil leads. Marks from by No. 3 and 4 pencils resulted in erroneous results.

(Is the myth that “sophomore” derives from an insulting term true or false? Get the lowdown here.)

Softer pencils, however, had a tendency to smudge, making No. 1 impractical. The machines that read the marks respond to the electrical conductivity of the lead.

In a Goldilocks moment, No. 2 pencils were just right.

The yellow (butterscotch?) shade apparently began to dominate the pencil industry in the late nineteenth century. At that time, pencils were either painted dark colors or not at all. Then, a company based in Austria-Hungary introduced a new, expensive brand of pencil that was painted yellow to distinguish it from other pencils. Other companies proceeded to do what you should never do on an exam: copy.

Speaking of numbers, why do planes have numbers for names? And why is it 747 rather than say, 947? Look at our explanation, here.

What?ˆ™s a Groupon coupon worth?

Chicago Sun-Times July 30, 2011 Howard Gould?ˆ™s Lutz Caf?© and Pastry Shop in the North Center neighborhood has enjoyed a 70-percent redemption rate from the 10,000 Groupon discounts it has offered in the past 12 months ?ˆ” and Gould isn?ˆ™t freaking out about handling the deals.

That?ˆ™s because Gould gets extra insights into his deal-seeking customers?ˆ™ purchases with the help of MobManager, a Chicago start-up that lets companies figure out whether it?ˆ™s worth offering a daily deal with Groupon, Living Social or similar sites. grouponseattlenow.com groupon seattle

MobManager lets the merchant track redemptions, average sales and each deal seeker?ˆ™s total spending. Merchants care about these details because they get paid based on coupons that shoppers redeem.

Initially, bakery employees tracked the Groupon customers by hand in a notebook, using a list of user names and voucher IDs that Groupon provided. ?ˆ?It was very cumbersome,?ˆ? Gould said.

Groupon, a $700 million yearly business whose value could soar to $30 billion in its public stock offering, offers merchants a free redemption app that tracks redemptions and return-on-investment via any handheld device.

Gould started using MobManager after company founder David Wachtendonk cold-called.

?ˆ?I?ˆ™m always looking for new ideas, new marketing methods and ways to become more efficient,?ˆ? Gould said.

?ˆ?I know that my sales are way beyond the $5 coupon we?ˆ™ve offered,?ˆ? Gould said.

Wachtendonk and his co-manager, Christopher Lee, developed the technology after Wachtendonk offered a Groupon from his murder-mystery party-planning company, Murder Mystery Maniacs, a year ago. His deal sold 3,300 Groupons ?ˆ” more than double the expected number that his Groupon account representative had estimated.

?ˆ?We didn?ˆ™t know we could put a cap on?ˆ? the number of Groupons offered, Wachtendonk said.

?ˆ?We are trying to make daily-deal offerings less of an emotional experience by letting merchants know whether they are making money per deal,?ˆ? he said.

Mark Ryski, chief executive officer of retail analytics firm HeadCount Corp. and author of Conversion: The Last Great Retail Metric, said businesses are excited by new technology that lets them immediately measure their deal-offering results and understand the context in which shoppers are making decisions.

?ˆ?Retailers need to be cautious about the context,?ˆ? Ryski said. ?ˆ?What happened to the customers without coupons who came into a store to make a purchase, but didn?ˆ™t get served and left??ˆ?

The analytical software comes at a time when daily-deal sites continue to proliferate, and when bloggers are increasingly questioning why Groupon collects all of its cash upfront while repaying merchants in installments over 60 to 70 days.

The more recent Chicago-based deal sites to pop up include Deal Umpire, which lets daily-deal sites bid against each other for the chance to feature a deal; Evanston-based portal CouponMob, where shoppers can find group deals, online coupons and other one-stop-shop savings, and SavvyAlly, a site aimed at helping women manage their ?ˆ?to do?ˆ? lists while accessing local deals, concierge services and ratings and reviews. go to web site groupon seattle

Indeed, deal sites have changed shopper behavior dramatically in the past three years ?ˆ” with a majority of shoppers feeling slighted and/or annoyed when they have to pay full price and 40 percent saying they follow at least one product brand via a social network to get a coupon or promotion, according to incentives-provider company Parago.

The trends prompt analysts to predict that deal-of-the-day sites?ˆ™ combined gross revenues will grow from today?ˆ™s $873 million to $3.9 billion in 2015, according to BIA/Kelsey research firm.

Howard Gould (left), owner of Lutz Cafe & Pastry Shop, uses software tool MobManager to track Groupon deal redemptions, average sales and more. David Wachtendonk (right) co-developed MobManager. | John H. White~Sun-Times John H. White


  1. Ali Ahsan -  October 26, 2013 - 9:22 am

    Does no 2 pencil mean HB 2 pencil?

  2. Sarah -  September 2, 2013 - 1:15 am

    I realize that it’s been a long time since this article was written, but I happened to come across it today and it’s funny how many people confuse “lead”, the chemical element, with “lead”,the core of the pencil.

    The word “lead”, in addition to being the chemical element, is the word for the central part of the pencil. Which explains why some people confused it with the element before and thought pencil lead was actually made of lead. Nowadays, almost everyone knows that pencils are made of graphite, as, I’m sure, does the writer of the article.

    Check your dictionaries, people!

  3. Cupcake Queen -  November 16, 2012 - 5:12 pm

    Graphite, people. GRAPHITE.
    This is a really great article! I had always wondered what the number meant…

  4. Nick Pitt -  October 31, 2012 - 8:39 am

    No, metallic lead has never been used in pencils. It’s called “lead” because at the time the large graphite reserves were discovered in Cumbria, there was no such thing as chemistry, and people thought the graphite was metallic lead.

  5. Frenchlove -  October 28, 2012 - 2:19 am

    people, pencil “lead” is GRAPHITE! GET IT RIGHT!

  6. J Mag -  May 23, 2012 - 7:14 am

    Can a No. 2 pencil come in colored graphjite?

  7. KATIE -  April 20, 2012 - 6:33 pm

    Pencils are mean to me.

  8. April -  April 9, 2012 - 10:17 am

    One thing I wish this article would explain is the rule that mechanical pencils cannot be used. The machines used now must be better at doing their job, so why force every student to use an uncomfortable traditional pencil when they might be able to do their test more effectively with a mechanical pencil due to the varying shapes and on higher end mechanical pencils, the finger cushion?

    Wouldn’t the smaller lead, allow for fewer out of the bubble/rectangle mistakes?

    I hated any sort of test in school that required filling in a bubble or other such item because I usually used a mechanical pencil for other things. Regular pencils were a surefire way to wind up with a bad hand cramp, for me.anyway.

  9. Tom -  April 9, 2012 - 3:03 am

    I love this site! I learn so much.
    Number 2 is my preferred tool. As a musician/composer/arranger, they work well. It is the erasers that are the most important.
    Muchas gracias.

  10. AnimeWater -  April 8, 2012 - 5:54 pm

    You would expect pencil “lead” to be made of granite, but in truth we don’t exactly know on a commoners viewpoint–due to the lack of knowledge and resources to determine the type of substance. Thus, due to the conditioning of the corporations, government, and educational systems we either think we know or let things like this dictionary make us think we know what the truth is.

    On the main note, Pencil lead is still known as pencil lead because of the supposition that the first pencil had a lead core. This was changed to granite after tomatoes’ acidity revealed that lead was in “fact” a poisonous metal. Sometime after this it was discovered that a stone (later called Granite) had a smooth gel-like consistency that made it perfect for the new core.

    Good day to you all,

  11. Ryoung Kim -  April 7, 2012 - 11:16 pm

    - my school uses their lead pencils, but i used a number 2 pencil because in my old school, we used it. Just in case I might be correct and all of them are wrong..

  12. Hissyspit -  April 7, 2012 - 8:44 am

    “H” in pencil designation does not mean “hard.” It is from the French “haut” or high, meaning high binder content in the graphite, which would make the pencil harder with a lighter mark. “B” stands for “bas” in French, which means low – low binder content in the graphite, which would make the pencil softer with a darker mark.

  13. Purpletastic -  April 7, 2012 - 7:50 am

    Hey, this actually pretty cool! Sometimes i wondered this, and lol to kaniz, the comment above me :)

  14. muhtaen -  April 7, 2012 - 5:43 am

    has anyone using normal pencil exist still in the world?

  15. kaniz -  January 3, 2012 - 12:57 pm

    the pencils are yellow cause it wants match the school bus

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