Bookish Terms & Bookishness


This post is about books

BooksI love books. Real books. Those you can touch and smell and page through. From brand-new glossy ones to old blurry ones.

I remember filling my allocation at the local library and going home with a heavy sack of books. Would I finish them all in time? Sometimes. But that feeling of excitement – newness – a burgeoning adventure – nothing but books give you that feeling. My childhood was fantastic – I didn’t know what was happening in the real world around me – but, my childhood was great.

The only thing that trumped solitary bookishness was sharing a story. Taking turns to read aloud from a book we all love. Those were the days. This is probably why I became a writer – to create these experiences.


woman reading a book
Antique Beauty by Stepan Bakalovich

A medieval textbook on a wide range of scientific topics. These included alchemy and astrology as well as more serious sciences. These were peer-reviewed and widely circulated amongst scientific communities.

Arguably one of the most famous almagests is The Almagest by the Alexandrian polymath, Claudius Ptolemy (c. 100AD – c. 170AD). For centuries, this book was the authority on the geocentric model of the solar system. It still is, I guess if you still think the heavens rotate around the Earth.


With Copper Plate Lowered (c. 1651), attributed to Bartholomeus van Bassen

This is a tome that lists and/or illustrates the coats of arms or heraldic devices of the lords and masters of the land. It’s the kind of thing you’d need if you were stranded in medieval times and had to find a lord with a cool shield in an emergency. Or, maybe that’s just me.


You might find this among the belongings of merchants and traders. This kind of book lists exchange rates and conversion charts for currencies, weights, and measures. The latter is needed, of course, because a good merchant goes where the trade is – no matter how far.

This word can also refer to a person. Note that it has the “-ist” suffix. This is used to denote a person who is involved with a certain subject matter (it usually takes the place of “-ism” or “-ize” suffixes). Here, a cambist is someone who is skilled or knowledgeable in foreign exchange. The Latin word of the root literally translates to “to change” (Merriam Webster).


This happy sounding book word actually refers to a pamphlet or booklet of sorts. These contained popular poems, ballads, and the like. You’d usually buy these from peddlers – especially after the advent of the printing press.

Ought to be something we should have today, don’t you agree?


This is an alternative term for a primer. An elementary textbook that introduces a subject or field of study. Like a shoehorn for the mind, you see.


Also called an incunable, this refers to an early book – books produced before 1501 specifically. Yes, 1501, not 1500 or 1502. Why? Printing technology, that’s why. This word retroactively refers to books produced during the early stages of printing press technology.

Stay a while and comment

The Librarian (c. 1570) by Giuseppe Arcimboldo

There are a few you can ponder over. There are a few out there, but I picked unusual ones. Who knows, maybe you can use them in your writing: maybe an old warlock is hoarding alchemy almagests for some reason; maybe the clue to solving this sordid mystery is written in the margins of a creepy incunabulum.

Do you have any words like these? Please share them in the comments section below.

Also, if you have any happy book-related memories, share them! Stories are magical things and that magic is made stronger when it is shared.


Merriam Webster Online Dictionary. s.v. “cambist”. Available at: (Accessed: 06/09/2018)

Reader’s Digest. 1989. Reverse Dictionary. Berkeley Square: London

Top Image: Still life with a lighted candle (1627), by Pieter Claesz. Wikimedia Commons [Public Domain]

Your thoughts...