Pencilwhip. Verb. (third-person singular simple present pencil whips, present participle pencil whipping, simple past and past participle pencil whipped) (idiomatic) To approve a document without actually knowing or reviewing what it is that is being approved.”

Typically, pencil whipping is as the definition above from implies. It is signing documents without really knowing what is being signed. It can also be falsifying logs or records so they look correct without reflecting reality.

In a not uncommon plot device, life insurance papers are shuffled in with other documents so the future victim of greed-inspired homicide won’t know the new price placed on their head.

Think of Double Indemnity, the 1944 film noir classic. In this Billy Wilder showpiece, the widow-to-be and an insurance adjuster purchase a policy on her husband.

Double_indemnity_screenshot_1(Spoiler alert) Naturally the whole thing unravels and the man would later know best, as “Father” ends up confessing into a Dictaphone as he bleeds out from a gunshot wound.

In light of the current pandemic, the thought that immunization records at a public college might be pencil whipped seems even less amusing than usual. For years however, the following story offered just a trace element of humor.

The admissions office clerk was reviewing immunization records and knew what she was looking for. The booster had to have been administered just over a year from the first injection.

The doctor’s records indicated the booster was given in the correct month, but no date was included.

“That has to be after your birthday,” she said to the incoming freshman.

“That’s all he had. It was nearly 20 years ago,” the student replied.

“After your birthday,” she repeated.

The student asked to borrow a pen, a black pen to match the photocopy and exited to the hall where he added a digit, a slash, and a digit to make the month and year a three-part date after his birthday.

Returning to the clerk he offered the pen and modified record.

“Perfect,” she said.

A supposedly true tale that hits close to home, so that’s all I’ll say about that.

No harm, no foul for this rather complicated example of pencil whipped – which in all fairness was more an example of a bureaucrat with a heart – interested in the spirit rather than letter of the policy.


CheckOffThere’s a job site I visit regularly where a first aid kit and an automatic external defibrillator (AED) require monthly checks. A safety officer is supposed to check them for completeness and functionality, no doubt. I had this same responsibility myself years ago while working a brief stint in a state job.

The two boxes are right by the office to the door, and it’s my habit to always glance at the check off sheets when I enter. They are rarely up to date, and then sometimes… they are.

A month ago in search of a simple bandage and opened the kit. It appeared to be about half-stocked. Here’s a real world example of where what looks good (sometimes) on paper isn’t really serving as well as it could be.


I once talked to a package delivery driver, don’t recall which company, about an important delivery I didn’t expect to be available to receive and sign for. “Don’t worry, I just run my finger over the pad and leave it,” he said.

Illustration of vintage style red pencils over rough background
I am not a robot…

Digital pencil whippings – they’re a thing, too. Think about those “Captchas” designed to make sure you’re not a robot working the web for boxes to check and sites to hack. Do you read privacy statements?

Please folks, read it before you sign it. Think about what you’re signing. Care.

After all, it is your name on the line that is dotted. And that way, if it doesn’t go away, you will at least remember laying your signature to it.

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