Bookworms–from insects to readers

Caterpillar bookworm

Cheetah and caterpillarThe other day, I had fun making the Bookworms picture on the left, and I got to thinking about the origin of the word bookworm. I’ve always been fascinated with how languages evolve, words changing meaning and spreading, and it stands to reason that bookworm once referred to some real sort of insect, but what kind?

Turns out there were several book-boring insects–including furniture beetles and the like, but that one major book-eating insect is actually the booklouse (so Wikipedia tells me, anyway. 😀 )! Here it is:

Book louse

Cute? Hm. Not so much.

Never seen one before? Well, me neither. Modern books are apparently not as tasty as they used to be–too chemical or something.

Maybe now in the era of electronic books, the background of the other bookworm (to mean “avid reader”) will soon be as obscure as the little floppy disk icon to indicate saving:

Floppy disk save icon
Screenshot from Microsoft Word

Yes, children, once upon a time we had little plastic floppy disks we had to carry around to access our data! 😉

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