Acuphilia: More Exciting Than You Know

Acuphilia - Goling Postal

This image is from the television movie Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal, which really is a fine rendering of Pratchett’s work. In fact, I might even say better than his books, but I haven’t read this particular book. Anyway, an element of the film is that people collect pins, much as actual people in our world collect stamps. This makes sense, given that a big part of the movie is the invention of stamps and then perforation.

One of the characters, Stanley, is a pin collector, and so our hero Moist von Lipwig is looking for a way to get him on his side. But how? All the kid cares about is pin collecting. But Moist happens upon a “pin exchange.” The first thing we see inside the exchange is this flier. You probably can’t make out the text at the top. It read, “Pins of every… shape & size.” Then there are two hands holding a bunch of pins, and then, of course, “HOME of ACUPHILIA.”


Now you don’t have to be a bibliophile or a logophile to understand the meaning of “acuphilia.” But if you are a pedant, regardless of the fact that you are a bibliophile and a logophile, you are going to look the word up. The funny thing is, and this gets to the brilliance that is Terry Pratchett, there is no such word. He coined it. Although I have little doubt that through the centuries since the pin was invented, there must have been some people who became obsessed with them for more than their practical value. But no one bothered to make note of it. Those kind of people probably didn’t get out much.

Various PinsThere is very little information about the history of pins, but even the safety pin is 200 years old. Taking a clue from Andrea, pins probably followed closely behind the invention of sewing needles. On that issue, we get a whole lot more information. Sewing Mantra has a great timeline on the History of Sewing Needles. Apparently, needles were first made out of bone and date back 30,000 years! But the first metal needles—made of copper—were produced about 9,000 years ago. So we can assume that pins have been around a very long time indeed.

The problem with seeing pins as something to collect, however, is that there isn’t a great deal of variability with pins—at least not straight pins. This idea is lampooned in the film where Moist wins over Stanley by presenting him with a rare pin, “Number Three Broad-Headed Extra Long.” There is doubtless far more diversity with needles. In fact, I know there is. I remember my mother having needles of all different lengths, thicknesses, and eye sizes. But all the pins were the same. So it is not surprising that there is no word for “pin love” outside the delightfully twisted mind of Pratchett.

Pins in All Their Variety

Contrary to what you might think, the “acu” prefix, as in “acupuncture,” does not stand for needle or the like. If it did, the word “acupressure” would be pretty stupid. Instead, it means “sharp,” as in “acute.” So “acuphilia” would mean literally “lover of sharpness.” But I think that’s close enough for our purposes. At least for the kind of pins that people collect on Discworld. These seem to be limited to straight pins. As a general category, pins are almost anything that hold two things together. “Pin” isn’t so much the name of a thing as it is a description of the job it does.

Bobby PinsSo we have bobby pins, which are neither straight nor sharp. (Though I’m sure some people do collect these because there is an endless variety of them—many quite beautiful.) Similarly, you have clothes pins that aren’t anything at all like straight pins. And paper clips are a kind of pin. Copper brads are pins that these days seem only to be used to pin screenplays together. There are split-pins and Cotter keys for use in machining. And then you have the pins on computer cables and the pins used to plug in a device to an electrical outlet. The whole thing can get quite out of control, which is exactly what pins were design to stop from happening.

I don’t know what exactly Pratchett thinks of the idea of being an acuphile. When I started thinking about it, I figured it was rather silly. But like most things, the more you look into it, the more fascinating it is. Even in its most traditional sense, it is interesting. The original pins were invented to hold two pieces of cloth together for sewing. That’s a brilliant solution. I don’t think I ever would have come up with it. There is nothing obvious about it. (Except that we’ve all seen the technique used since our youngest days.)

Pins rule!

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