Pen pal

Pen pal

Pen pals (or penpals or pen friends) are people who regularly write to each other, particularly via postal mail.


A penpal relationship is often used to practice reading and writing in a foreign language, to improve literacy, to learn more about other countries and life-styles, and to reduce loneliness. As with any friendships in life, some people remain penpals for only a short time, while others continue to exchange letters and presents life-long. Some penpals eventually arrange to meet face to face. Some pen pals even get married.

Penpals come in all ages, nationalities and cultures. Pals may seek new penfriends based on their own age group, a specific occupation, hobby, or select someone totally different from them to gain knowledge about the world around them.

Many people writing to a penpal do not use their native language in their letters. Fact|date=June 2007

A modern variation on the traditional penpal arrangement is to have a keypal and exchange email addresses as well as or instead of paper letters. This has the advantage of saving money and being more immediate, allowing many messages to be exchanged in a short period of time. The disadvantage is that the communication can be very ephemeral if the email messages are not routinely saved. Many people prefer to receive paper letters, gaining the satisfaction of seeing their name carefully printed on a thick envelope in the letterbox. Using postal mail, it is possible to trade postcards, stamps and anything else light and flat enough to fit inside an envelope, often called "tuck-ins".

Penpal clubs can be found on the Internet, in magazine columns, newspapers, and sometimes through clubs or special interest groups. Some people are looking for romantic interests, while others just want to find friends. It seems, on the internet, that the term "pen pals" defines those looking for relationships, where pen pals originated via postal mail correspondences and has evolved to mean something more. Penpals also make and pass around friendship books, slams and crams.

In recent years, penpal correspondence with prison inmates has gained acceptance on the Internet. Most pen pal newsletters do not publish prison pen pal ads because these communications require more caution, not simple friendships. Prison penpal sites are proactive, though, in offering full disclosure of inmates' crimes and providing advice for would be pen pals.


Many penpals meet each other through organizations that bring people together for this purpose.

Organizations can be split into three main categories: free, partial subscription, and subscription-based clubs. Free clubs are usually funded by advertising and profiles are not reviewed, whereas subscription-based clubs will usually not contain any advertising and will have an administrator approving profiles to the database.

The Australian author Geraldine Brooks wrote a memoir entitled "Foreign Correspondence," (1997) about her childhood, which was enriched by her exchanges of letters with other children in Australia and overseas and her travels as an adult in search of the people they had become.

In the 1970s, syndicated children's television program "Big Blue Marble" often invited viewers to write to them for their own pen pal.

On another children's TV show, "Pee-wee's Playhouse", Pee-wee Herman would often receive pen pal letters.

At the 1964/1965 World's Fair in New York, the Parker Pen pavilion provided a computer pen pal matching service. This service was officially terminated by Parker Pen in 1967. This service did not work in conjunction with any other pen friend clubs. The computer system and database used for this service were not sold, taken over, or continued in any way.

In the "Peanuts" comic strip from the 1960s and 1970s, Charlie Brown tries to write to a pen pal using a fountain pen but after several literally "botched" attempts, Charlie switches to using a pencil and referring to his penpal as his "pencil-pal", with his first letter to his "pencil-pal" explaining the reason for the name change.

While the traditional snail mail pen pal relationship has fallen into a decline due to modern technology closing the world's communication gap, prison pen pal services have combined technology with traditional letter writing. These sites allow inmates to place pen pal ads online; however, inmates in the United States and most of the world are not permitted to access the Internet. Therefore the pen pal relationships with inmates is still conducted via postal mail. Other pen pal organizations have survived by embracing the technology of the Internet.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • pen pal — pen pals also pen pal N COUNT A pen pal is someone you write friendly letters to and receive letters from, although the two of you may never have met. Syn: pen friend …   English dictionary

  • pen pal — n someone you make friends with by writing letters, especially someone who lives in another country and who you have never met British Equivalent: pen friend …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • pen pal — pen ,pal noun count INFORMAL someone who you regularly write friendly letters to but have never met. British usually pen friend …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • pen pal — pen′ pal n. a person with whom one keeps up an exchange of letters, usu. someone far away • Etymology: 1935–40, amer …   From formal English to slang

  • pen pal — ► NOUN informal ▪ a penfriend …   English terms dictionary

  • pen pal — n. a person, esp. a stranger in another country, with whom one arranges a regular exchange of letters …   English World dictionary

  • pen pal — UK / US noun [countable] Word forms pen pal : singular pen pal plural pen pals a pen friend …   English dictionary

  • pen pal — {n.} A friend who is known to someone through an exchange of letters. * /John s pen pal writes him letters about school in Alaska./ …   Dictionary of American idioms

  • pen pal — {n.} A friend who is known to someone through an exchange of letters. * /John s pen pal writes him letters about school in Alaska./ …   Dictionary of American idioms

  • pen pal — a person with whom one keeps up an exchange of letters, usually someone so far away that a personal meeting is unlikely: My niece in Texas has a pen pal in France. [1935 40, Amer.] * * * …   Universalium

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