Wordsworth: Books

JOSEPH GALLAGHER

October 26, 1990|By Joseph Gallagher

ENGLISH IS CONSIDERED a Germanic language, yet it has long been a marvelous hybrid. Take the word book. It comes from the Germanic word beech, because our chief linguistic ancestors wrote on the bark of that tree.

Yet a collection of books isn't called a bookery, but a library. That word comes from the Latin word liber, meaning first the bark of a tree, and then a book.

A list of related books isn't called a librography, but a bibliography. Here we find the Greek word for book, biblos (or biblion). That's where we get the word bible -- the book.

Byblos (whence ''biblos'') was the Greek name for an ancient city 20 miles north of Beirut from which the Greeks imported Egyptian papyrus (whence paper). The modern Lebanese village called Jubayl or Jebeil.

When I touch the ''leaves'' of a book, it delights me to remember that books are from trees, as the word itself comes from a beech tree. When Dante looked into the depths of God, he famously saw all the scattered leaves of the universe gathered into a single book and bound by love.

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