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Monday, July 8, 2024

“Tsundoku,” the Japanese Phrase for the New Books That Pile Up on Our Cabinets, Ought to Enter the English Language

There are some phrases on the market which can be bril­liant­ly evoca­tive and on the identical time impos­si­ble to ful­ly trans­late. Yid­dish has the phrase shli­ma­zl, which basi­cal­ly means a per­pet­u­al­ly unfortunate per­son. Ger­man has the phrase Backpfeifen­gesicht, which tough­ly means a face that’s unhealthy­ly in want of a fist. After which there’s the Japan­ese phrase tsun­doku, which per­fect­ly describes the state of my aside­ment. It means purchase­ing books and let­ting them pile up unread.

The phrase dates again to the very start­ning of mod­ern Japan, the Mei­ji period (1868–1912) and has its ori­gins in a pun. Tsun­doku, which lit­er­al­ly means learn­ing pile, is writ­ten in Japan­ese as 積ん読. Tsunde oku means to let some­factor pile up and is writ­ten 積んでおく. Some wag across the flip of the cen­tu­ry swapped out that oku (おく) in tsunde oku for doku (読) – imply­ing to learn. Then since tsunde doku is tough to say, the phrase bought mushed togeth­er to type tsun­doku.

As with oth­er Japan­ese phrases like karaoke, tsuna­mi, and otaku, I feel it’s excessive time that tsun­doku enter the Eng­lish lan­guage. Now if solely we will fig­ure out a phrase to explain unread ebooks that lan­guish in your Kin­dle. E‑tsundoku? Tsunkin­dle? Contem­plate the mat­ter for some time.

The illus­tra­tion above was made when a Pink­di­tor requested his daugh­ter to illus­trate the phrase “Tsun­doku,” and he or she didn’t dis­ap­level.

Word: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this submit appeared on our web site in July 2014.

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Relat­ed Con­tent: 

The Advantage of Personal­ing Books You Haven’t Learn: Why Umber­to Eco Saved an “Antili­brary”

An Archive of Vivid­ly Illus­trat­ed Japan­ese College­books, from the 1800s to World Battle II

The Japan­ese Fairy Story Sequence: The Illus­trat­ed Books That Intro­duced West­ern Learn­ers to Japan­ese Tales (1885–1922)

A Gained­der­ful­ly Illus­trat­ed 1925 Japan­ese Edi­tion of Aesop’s Fables by Leg­endary Youngsters’s Ebook Illus­tra­tor Takeo Takei

1,000+ His­toric Japan­ese Illus­trat­ed Books Dig­i­tized & Put On-line by the Smith­son­ian: From the Edo & Meji Eras (1600–1912)

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based author and movie­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wooden Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You’ll be able to fol­low him at @jonccrow. And take a look at his artwork weblog Veep­to­pus.

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