The Three Rs: Reading


Continuing with our back-to-school theme (so far we’ve had SAT words and words that are commonly confused), this week we’re featuring the three Rs, reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic. Today it’s all things reading, readers, and books.

The word read comes from the Old English rædan, “to explain, read, rule, advise.” Rædan is also related to riddle, reason, hatred, dread, and kindred. The word book comes from the Old English boc, “book, writing, written document,” which comes from the Proto-Germanic bokiz, “beech” with “the notion being of beechwood tablets on which runes were inscribed, but it may be from the tree itself (people still carve initials in them).”

The root libr- comes from the Latin libri, “book, paper, parchment,” and originally referred to “the inner bark of trees.” It gave us library, from the Latin librarium, “chest for books,” and librarian; libretto, “a book containing the words of an extended musical composition, like an opera or an oratorio,” from the Italita libretto, literally “little book,” and librettist. It gave us ex libris, “a book-plate printed with the name of the owner,” and literally “from the books.”

Another-reading related root, biblio-, meaning “book” and related to Bible, comes from the Greek biblion, “paper, scroll,” and was “originally a diminutive of byblos ‘Egyptian papyrus.'” You’ll find biblio- in many book and reading-related terms. Bibliochresis refers to “the use of books” while a bibliography is “a classified list of authorities or books on any theme,” as well as that branch of library science “which treats of books, their materials, authors, typography, editions, dates, subjects, classification, history, etc.”

A bibliognost is “one versed in bibliography or the history of books,” while a bibliothecary is a fancy way of saying either library or librarian, and contains the Greek thēkē, “receptacle.” (An apothecary is a pharmacy or pharmacist, and comes from the Greek apotheke, “barn, storehouse”.)

Bibliomancy is “a kind of divination performed by means of a book”; stichomancy is “divination by lines or passages in books taken at hazard,” and contains the Greek stikhikos, “of lines, of verses.” Both refer especially to the Bible. Meanwhile, a grimoire is “a book of instructions in the use of magic or alchemy, especially summoning demons,” and is an alteration of the Old French gramaire, meaning “learning” but also “(magic) incantation, spells, mumbo-jumbo” (and which the word grammar comes from too).

A bibliophile is “a lover of books,” bibliobibuli are those who read too much, and a bibliomaniac – or bibliodemon, if you prefer – isn’t just mad for books but has “a rage for collecting and possessing books, especially rare and curious ones.” A bibliophagist is one who devours books (figuratively of course), and contains the Greek phagein, “to eat.” A biliotaph buries or hides his books away, and contains the Greek taphos, “tomb” (as does epitaph, “an inscription on a tomb or monument in honor or memory of the dead”) while a biblioklept is “a book-thief; one who purloins or steals books,” and contains the Greek kleptein, “to steal.”

One with bibliophobia has “a dread or hatred of books” and might also be a biblioclast, “a mutilator or destroyer of books.” Biblioclast contains the Greek klastos, “broken in pieces,” and is related to iconoclast, “a breaker or destroyer of images,” and pyroclastic, “mostly composed of rock fragments of volcanic origin.”

Still haven’t had enough biblio-words? Check out our list of the day. As for what to read, consult this bookish list for book types and parts, this literary one for genres, or this one for one-word book titles (or you could always read all of our summer reading recommendations). Interested in bookmaking? The Bindery is the list for you.

Tomorrow we bring you the second R: ‘Riting! Stay tuned.

Season of the SATs

Not only is it back-to-school season, it’s the season of the SATs.

The SAT Reasoning Test attempts to measure writing, reading, and math skills, and is required by many colleges and universities. The math section includes multiple choice and open-ended questions, while the writing section includes an essay and multiple-choice questions that ask test takers to “recognize sentence errors,” “choose the best version of a piece of writing,” and “improve paragraphs.”

It’s in the critical reading section that one’s vocab mettle is tested. While the analogies portion of the test has been dropped, the questions still ask test takers to identify main and supporting ideas; understand authors’ purposes; understand the structure and function of sentences; and, our favorite, determine the meaning of words in context.

If you’re a regular Wordnik-user, you’ll know that not only do we provide definitions of words, we provide those words in context through examples from both classic and modern texts. For example, today’s word of the day, laconic, means “expressing much in few words, after the manner of the ancient Laconians; sententious; pithy; short.” Pretty clear, right? However, these examples liven it up:

Eastwood is never showy, but his laconic simplicity has never been so sly. – David Ansen, “Go Ahead, Take My Prez,” Newsweek, July 11, 1993

[The book, I Know How to Cook] been adapted by Clotilde Dusoulier of the blog Chocolate & Zucchini and an unnamed posse of experts who filled in some of Mathiot’s “laconic” instructions, reduced cooking times, and lightened up on the butter. – Mike Sula, “Books for Cooks,” Chicago Reader, December 10, 2009

To the Persian command to give up their weapons, the “laconic” reply was given by Leonidas, “Come and get them.” – George Park Fisher, Outlines of Universal History, 1853

Another way to learn the meaning of a word is to understand its etymology. Laconic comes from the Greek Lakōn, a Spartan, from the idea that Spartans are well-known for their brevity of speech.

Word lists are a great study aid as well, and we have plenty:

We’ve also tagged a whole slew of common SAT words for you.

Finally, if you want to practice using this week’s SAT-themed words of the day (whether or not you’ll actually be taking the test), participate in our Perfect Tweet WotD Challenge for your chance to appear on our blog and to win a set of Pocket Posh Word Power dictionaries.

Steve Jobs: "People Don’t Read"

Apple’s Steve Jobs, talking to The New York Times about Amazon’s Kindle:

“It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore,” he said. “Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.”

Which means sixty percent of people in the U.S.–180 million people–are, to some degree, readers. More if you count newspapers, magazines, and the web.

It strikes me as odd that Jobs, the head of a company that is doing very well with a less than 9 percent market share*, doesn’t appreciate that.

* UPDATE: Notice how I conflate the size of a market with market share? I think that’s called lying with statistics. Still, I think the larger point stands.

You are what you read

Please forgive the self-promotion/cross-posting, but I just submitted one of the more interesting Librarything blog posts of late to Digg. Would love it if you’d take a second to go over and digg it, and pass it along to anyone else you know who might be interested:

As noted in the comments of the LibraryThing blog post, there must be a bunch of similar things that could be done with one’s words, or a word cloud. Would love to hear any good ideas. I’m seriously considering wrapping my MacBook in a word cloud.