10 Words Every Book-Lover Should Know

The word for a book-lover is a ‘bibliophile’, a word first recorded in print in 1824. Alternatively, there is the word ‘bookworm’, which is of an altogether more ancient pedigree: it first appears in 1580. But what words should every good bibliophile and bookworm know? Here are some of our favourites. If you enjoy these, we’ve also delved into the interesting world of words and language here.

If you consider yourself an educated or ‘lettered’ person, you might be described as a LITERARIAN, a word coined from the French in the eighteenth century and probably modelled on similar words such as ‘librarian’ and ‘antiquarian’.

Some people consider themselves highly educated and lettered literarians, but in fact they are often ULTRACREPIDARIAN – a handy word which refers to someone who gives an opinion on things s/he knows nothing about. This rather useful word is first recorded in a letter of 1819 written by influential critic William Hazlitt (indeed, he applies the word ‘ultracrepidarian’ to critics here in its inaugural use).

Another word for this sort of person, whom you may overhear mouthing off about books, films, politics, or, indeed, anything at the next table in the pub or the coffee-house, is MOROSOPH. A ‘morosoph’ is a would-be philosopher – a fool who thinks he’s clever than he is. The word comes from the French writer Rabelais.

Domesday BookIf you’re not only an avid reader, but one of those people who simply cannot leave the house without a tome stashed in your pocket or bag, then it may interest you to know that Scottish novelist and poet Sir Walter Scott coined the phrase BOOK-BOSOMED to describe someone who carries a book at all times. The phrase first appears in Scott’s celebrated 1805 poem The Lay of the Last Minstrel.

However, beware you don’t get accused of overdoing the books: BIBLIOBIBULI was American humorist H. L. Mencken’s coinage, and it refers to people who read too much. (Is there such a thing as reading too much?!)

If it’s poetry you like, then why not read an AMPHIGOURI – another word for a piece of nonsense-verse. The origin of this term is unknown, but it’s altogether less famous than the equally mysteriously named limerick, those five-line comic poems which were named after Limerick in Ireland, but nobody quite knows why.

Another popular form of comic verse which you may enjoy is the CLERIHEW, named after the middle name of E. C. Bentley (or Edmund Clerihew Bentley in full), which is a short comic or nonsensical poem which aims to sum up the life of someone – usually a famous figure – in just a few lines. Popular examples include the ones by Bentley himself beginning ‘George the Third / Ought never to have occurred’ and ‘Sir Humphrey Davy / Detested gravy.’ W. H. Auden was perhaps Bentley’s best heir, and penned a series of clerihews under the title ‘Academic Graffiti’, which you can read here.

If you’re reading plays rather than poetry, look out for the DEUTERAGONIST – the second actor or person in a drama, after the protagonist. It’s first recorded in 1855 in a book by G. H. Lewes, the common-law husband of George Eliot.

If you’ve read this far, the chances are you’re a voracious reader, someone who might be described as a BIBLIOPHAGIST – literally, a devourer of books.

We’ll leave you with our own suggestion, BIBLIOSMIA – meaning the act of smelling books, especially as a way of getting a ‘fix’ from the aroma of old tomes.

If you like unusual words, check out our pick of the eight best trivia books about the English language.

More fun wordy stuff can be found in our tipsy list of words for drunkenness and our catalogue of unusual phobias.

Image: The Domesday Book from William Andrews, Historic Byways and Highways of Old England (1900), public domain.

97 thoughts on “10 Words Every Book-Lover Should Know”

  1. I’m ashamed that I knew so few of these, but I do know that “book-bosomed” is now going to work its way into my everyday vocabulary! What a great post.

    • I hadn’t thought of the connection between MOROSOPH and SOPHOMORE but that makes perfect sense – I think you’re right. The ‘moro’ clearly denotes ‘foolish’ (just as ‘oxymoron’ means ‘sharp-dull’ or ‘pointedly foolish’). Good etymological detection!

  2. I’m going to find ways to use these words in conversations all week now! I’m definitely guilty of bibliosmia – and I love walking into libraries just for the smell of the books! I hope I’m not alone with this!

  3. HAHA, I love it i think that I am BOOK-BOSOMED, can’t leave the house without a couple of books in my bag.

  4. I’m proud to now add Book Bosomed. In future if I’m arranging to meet someone who has never met me in a public place, as well as the usual descriptors I shall just add book-bosomed with no further explanation. Except of course for those days when i am Kindle bosomed. I have to confess days when I realise I am grievously Morosophist however. Probably most days, if i strive for scrupulous honesty.

    Think I shall now hide my shamed blushes in my bosom book.

    • ‘Kindle bosomed’ sounds as though you might be hugging a group of kittens, as a ‘kindle’ of kittens is apparently the collective noun term. That would be nice too! Kittens and a book… What more does one need?

      And I think we are all a little morosophist (morosophical?) from time to time. As Pope said, ‘A little learning is a dangerous thing’… For me, certainly ;)

  5. I’ve memorised all the words I didn’t know so that I can casually drop them into conversation and appear to be super-cool. Well. Maybe not cool, but you get my point. Great blog post :)

  6. Reblogged this on At Her Desk and commented:
    I just became smarter by following this blog.

    ULTRACREPIDARIAN – a handy word which refers to someone who gives an opinion on things s/he knows nothing about.

    (I dated one of those once. You know how you can tell you’re dating an ULTRACREPIDARIAN? They get angry when you correct them, then they call YOU an ULTRACREPIDARIAN. Though to be fair, they usually don’t know the word for it.)

  7. Reblogged this on A Novel Challenge and commented:
    I literally loved reading this, made me smile the whole way through and made me realise, I have a long way to go before I can describe myself as bibliophagist but I must admit, I’ve smelled a book or two in my time! Bravo for this.

  8. Excellent! Ultracrepidarian could probably be well applied in a lot of Arts subjects at university! Nothing beat Book-bosomed from that list though – love it! I’ll have to try and use that one soon.

  9. BIBLIOPHILE – Indeed.
    LITERARIAN – I like to think so.
    BOOK-BOSOMED – Indubitably.
    BIBLIOBIBULI – On occasion.
    BIBLIOSMIA – An underappreciated pastime in the age of e-readers. Visit your local public library today.

    Thanks for providing words for my obsession.

  10. I just read Anne of Green Gables for the first time and learned that Anne’s bosom-friend, is Diana. So, I think I’ll take book-bosomed as my new favorite word. What a fun and enlightening research project this is. I think I should print this out and carry it with me!


Leave a Reply

Discover more from Interesting Literature

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue Reading