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.