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bookworm

[ book-wurm ]
/ ˈbʊkˌwɜrm /
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noun

a person devoted to reading or studying.
any of various insects that feed on books, especially a booklouse.

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Origin of bookworm

First recorded in 1590–1600; book + worm
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021

VOCAB BUILDER

What does bookworm mean?

A bookworm is someone who’s always reading, usually because they just love to read or because they’re studying or both.

Bookworm is sometimes used negatively to make fun of people who love to read. But it is more commonly used in a positive way, especially by book lovers proudly calling themselves bookworms. Bookworm can also be used literally as a general name for any insect that eats books.

Example: Bookworms usually have huge vocabularies, so be careful when you play one in Scrabble.

Where does bookworm come from?

The first records of the word bookworm come from the late 1500s. The word was first used to refer to people who read a lot, often as an insult. For example, in a work by English playwright and poet Ben Jonson, a book-worme (as he spelled it) is described as a candle-waster, presumably implying that the person reads so much that they end up reading by candlelight and “wasting” candles just to read.

Only later was bookworm used in reference to insects that eat books. For the record, not all worms are insects, but some are, including the booklouse, which is a wingless insect that often lives among books and papers and is known to feed on the binding paste used to hold some books together.

Interestingly, the eating metaphor is also used in other terms for people who read a lot. One such term is bibliophage, which literally means “someone who devours books” (it can also be used as a name for an insect that eats books, though that’s rare). Similarly, bookworms are sometimes called voracious readers (voracious can be mean either “eating a lot” or “very enthusiastic”). They are also called avid readers or bibliophiles (literally, “people who love books”). Bookworms usually love books, though sometimes people are simply called bookworms because they read a lot to study, as in She’s a bookworm—she always has her nose in a textbook. Such descriptions can be negative, but bookworm is most often used positively, especially as a self-applied label that bookworms use to identify themselves to other bookworms. Yes, bookworms are sometimes classified as introverts, but they can be social, too. (Though they might be guilty of bringing a book to a party, just as, you know, a backup.)

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What are some synonyms for bookworm?

What are some words that share a root or word element with bookworm

What are some words that often get used in discussing bookworm?

How is bookworm used in real life?

Bookworm is most often used positively, especially by bookworms themselves.

 

 

Try using bookworm!

Is bookworm used correctly in the following sentence?

Bookworms can rarely make it out of a used bookstore without buying at least one book—and heaven help them in a library, where the books are free.

British Dictionary definitions for bookworm

bookworm
/ (ˈbʊkˌwɜːm) /

noun

a person excessively devoted to studying or reading
any of various small insects that feed on the binding paste of books, esp the book louse
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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