Bookworm

A bookworm, in a literal sense, is widely considered to be a worm that bores through books, chewing on the paper, and damaging them. However, there is no literal bookworm.

Instead, what we call bookworms are the larvae of any number of insect species, including beetles and moths. These larvae can resemble worms and though they do sometimes chew through the paper, they usually prefer the cloth binding of old books or the glue used in binding. Other times, it is insects themselves, such as termites, that damage books. Regardless of whether a bookworm exists in nature, it is the inspiration for this idiom.

Meaning of Idiom Bookworm

A bookworm is a person who reads a lot; one who loves books and spends a lot of time reading and studying. 1Kirkpatrick, Elizabeth M. The Wordsworth Dictionary of Idioms. Ware: Wordsworth, 1995.


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Usage of Idiom

This idiom can tend to be a bit derogative as being a bookworm is considered as having an unusual affection for books and learning.

Someone who loves books themselves will probably not call another person a bookworm. However, it can be neutral or positive.

A bookworm should not necessarily be confused with a bibliophile, which is someone who loves books but not just for reading, but for their history, format, etc.  A bibliophile is usually a collector of books, while a bookworm just loves to read.

Examples Of Use

“I’ve always been a bookworm and I still prefer a paper book to digital.”

“Alan is such a bookworm. Don’t you think it would be good for him to get out and play with the other kids?”

“Teresa spends all her time studying and she reads voraciously. Sometimes, she’s reading three books at once!”

“I used to visit a little book store where I traded in sackfuls of paperbacks for new books. The lady who owned the store loved that such a young boy was such a bookworm. She sometimes gave me two books in exchange for one.”

Origin

This idiom, which uses the notion of an actual bookworm as a metaphor for a keen reader, has been used since at least the mid-1700s.

Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English language, in 1755, defines an actual bookworm as a worm or mite that eats holes in books, chiefly when damp.

And, it defines the idiom bookworm as “a student too closely given to books; a reader without judgment.

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Sources   [ + ]

1. Kirkpatrick, Elizabeth M. The Wordsworth Dictionary of Idioms. Ware: Wordsworth, 1995.