Thursday 12 January 2012

A Book-worm and his Book

I spotted this little green book-worm, engrossed in his book, in a bookshop at Ledbury when I was visiting my mother, and I couldn’t resist. Entitled Book Worm (what else could it possibly be called?), the picture is reproduced from a water colour by Fran Evans, on a card printed by Two Bad Mice, and it set me wondering about the origin of the word book-worm.

A quick online search threw up lots of entries on computer games and viruses, but nothing at all about bibliophiles, which I think is rather sad. However, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, a book-worm (OED editors hyphenate it) is: “One who seems to find his chief sustenance in reading, one who is always poring over books.”

And there are quotes, including one from playwright Ben Jonson, in Fountaine of Self-Love (1601), who obviously had a low opinion of book-worms, for he said: “Peruerted, and spoyld, by a whoore-sonne Book-worme, a Candle-waster.”  However, the poet Alexander Pope had a slightly different view apparently, for in a letter of 1717 he wrote: “I wanted nothing but a black Gown and a Salary, to be as meer a Bookworm as any there.”

The OED also reveals that a book-worm is a kind of maggot which destroys books by eating its way through the leaves. Fortunately, human book-worms don’t destroy the volumes they read, but I suppose they got their name because they are as addicted to books as the maggots, which don’t sound nearly as attractive as the creature in the picture.

Anyway, if anyone out there has any more information I would love to know. 


  1. Lovely post & lovely picture. I've always thought of myself as a bookworm (unhyphenated!)& I'm glad there are so many of us out there.

  2. Thanks for the comment Lyn, there are a lot of us out there, which is good. Like you, I always thought it is bookworm - all one word, but the OED is the authority!