The surprising etymology of ‘book’



Beech tree

Here’s a bit of a surprising etymology.
Now, sometimes it makes sense.
You can see where the word comes from.
Some shift in meaning, but it’s all understandable.
Maybe you could even guess.
But sometimes, words take a really unexpected twist.
And here’s a case where we can take a look at the word ‘book’.
Now, book: the best guess of etymology is that it comes from this Proto-Germanic bōk or bokiz, meaning beech, the beech tree.
Now, here’s a beech tree, and you can see it’s a popular tree to write on.
It has this very smooth bark, often has a texture similar to elephant skin, and a popular choice for carving.
Although there’s really no, you know, history of, you know, a great tradition of writing on beech trees.
Not in terms, there’s not like a whole literature, the way there is with birch bark.
Birch bark, there’s all kinds of writings that are preserved on birch bark.
It’s not the case for beech trees.
But they still seem to be a popular target for writing on.
And there’s nothing been established about this word.
It’s just that’s the best guess, based on the way this word looks, that it seems to have the same root as this idea of beech tree.
And so, you know, there’s a discussion here that, you know, they did have some phonetic difficulties.
So the way the words are changing sound don’t seem quite right.
And this theory is supported by the idea that other languages also have writing based on tree names.
So for Latin, related to birch, and ash for Sanskrit, livre and librum coming from tree bark.
That’s where we get ‘library’.
So of course, this idea of writing is somehow connected to this as being a writing surface.
So it makes me imagine a time, if this is true, and you know, if it’s not true, then really there’s no idea, we have no idea where this word comes from.
But this is the best guess.
And if it is true, you know, it takes things back to a time where imagine that a smooth tree bark would be the closest thing to paper, you know, that you have around.
This looks like paper.
You know, this is, if you didn’t have sheets of paper in common use, then this might be the closest thing to it.
So if this was a good surface for writing on, the whole idea of writing would become connected to these trees, and that you could even imagine a world where there’s a lot of tree writing.
It would be a popular thing to see.
And so the idea of like a paper or something written would be connected, and that’s, OK, it’s a beech, it’s a book.
Same idea.
And so that seems to be the origin.
Everything after that is more well known, that clearly it starts with just the idea of being writing.
Book originally could mean any kind of writing.
And then it was only later that it became fixed as this particular type of object with the pages and everything.
But originally it just meant writing in general.
So this is certainly one of those unexpected twists that you can find if you get into the world of etymology.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *