“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 are bril­liant­ly evoca­tive and on the similar 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 dangerous­ly 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 difficult to say, the phrase received 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 are able to 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.

Be aware: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this put up 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 Warfare II

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

A Gained­der­ful­ly Illus­trat­ed 1925 Japan­ese Edi­tion of Aesop’s Fables by Leg­endary Kids’s E-book 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 possibly can fol­low him at @jonccrow. And take a look at his artwork weblog Veep­to­pus.

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