There's A Surprising Reason Why Pen Caps Have Holes In Them


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

Lifesavers. Borodkin Viachelv/Shutterstock

Some things should just be common knowledge by now; little factoids that everyone contains in their brain. The Earth isn’t flat, but an oblate spheroid. Nope, your hair and nails don’t grow after you die. The holes at the top of Bic biro pens are there so that, if you swallow one accidentally, you can still breathe and won’t choke to death.

It's debatable whether that last one there is common knowledge or not. A quick Google search of the fact, rewritten as a question, reveals articles addressing this point going back several years, with the latest (re)appearing just this week over on ScienceAlert. We suppose it’s one of those things that comes up from time to time, like what would happen if you nuked Yellowstone (not much, as it turns out).


If you jump over to Bic’s website, under their FAQs, it quite clearly states: “The reason that some BIC® pens have a hole in their cap is to prevent the cap from completely obstructing the airway if accidentally inhaled. This is requested by the international safety standards ISO11540, except for in cases where the cap is considered too large to be a choking hazard.”

That’s rather lovely of them. In appreciation of their want to not kill off their more clumsy customers, we thought we’d share a few more random facts about Bic that are probably going to come up in a pub quiz one day.

Did you know, for example, that each Bic ballpoint pen can produce at least 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) of ink before it begins to run out? In fact, in 2015, 7,250 kilometers (4,505 miles) of writing tests on such pens were carried out on ballpoint pens, gel pens, and rollers to make sure they worked to the highest standard.

That's equivalent to the distance from the Earth’s surface all the way down to the very heart of the planet’s iron core… and 13.7 percent of the way back again. That’s a lot of scribbling. Sounds quite therapeutic, to be honest.


At the same time, Bic’s range of lighters – each of which can produce 3,000 flames – do not have emergency breathing holes in them, so we’d strongly advise that you do not inadvertently swallow them.

The best part of the Bic site, however, is this rather curious fact: “100 percent of pen balls are made through a highly-controlled process.” As opposed to a highly uncontrolled process, involving explosions and bouncy castles and utter pandemonium, we suppose.

Anyway: thanks Bic, for stopping fans of pen-chewing from shuffling off their mortal coil prematurely.


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