Word of the Week: Bibliomania

Bibliomania –  Join the Bookworms

Bibliomania: passionate enthusiasm for collecting and possessing books.

A wonderful concept; a wonderful word. This lovely abstract noun, as you might have guessed, came from the French ‘bibliomanie’ of the same definition and entered our language at some time between 1725 and 1735.

Those who suffer from this affliction are ‘bibliomaniacs’, and its adjectival form ‘bibliomaniacal’ is the proud boast of bookworms across the English-speaking world.

‘Biblio’ is a Latin combining form frequently seen in Greek loan words such as ‘bibliography’ and ‘bibliophile’, quite simply meaning ‘book’. This is most commonly in the physical sense (a bibliophile being someone who is especially taken with the printing and binding of the books which they love to collect) but can be used in the sense of the book, as in the Bible (hence ‘bibliolatry’).

It’s interesting to contemplate whether bibliomaniacs of the late 1600s struggled to express their passion without the term, since words typically come into use because of speaker’s appreciation of their necessity. New words usually fill an existing language gap: the existence of a concept is likely to make speakers thankful for a word which describes it once discovered, and thus useful new coinages enter common parlance.

But one has to wonder whether there really was a demand for this noun at its date of origin, or even nowadays; I can’t remember the last time I heard anyone use it in a sentence. When Queen Victoria was crowned, more than a third of English men, and half of women, were illiterate. Wind back a hundred years or so to the Stuarts, when three quarters of women couldn’t even sign their name and the only literate groups were the gentry, clergy and merchants, despite the famous literary court of King James I.

Few could understand, let alone afford literature, and thus the bibliomaniacs must have been a rare breed. Today the case may still be the same: even in the UK where 99% of the population is literate, 44% of young people (16-24) don’t read for pleasure and 18% of adults only bought one or two books in 2013.

I’m hoping to reverse the typical language cycle a little here, and urge you to let the fact that there’s such a lovely word to describe a love of books inspire the non-bibliomaniacs out there to give it a go.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Great work, super interesting stuff Jess. #teambibliomaniacs

    Liked by 1 person

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