Books, Words - Stories & Histories

Some stories, histories and facts relating to books and words -



History Q&A's...

Question ~
Which Chinese text, compiled during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644 AD), was then the world’s largest known encyclopaedia?
Answer ~
The Yongle Dadian.

                                         chinese text 1              text
                                            Pages from the Yongle Dadian Encyclopedia.


Question ~
Which ancient university and Buddhist monastic centre, dating from the 5th–6th century CE, continued to flourish as a centre of learning until circa 1200 CE?
Answer ~
Nalanda - a renowned Buddhist University in the ancient kingdom of Magadha (modern-day Bihar) in India.
                                                          View of the ruins of Nalanda University


Question ~
In which ancient city was the magnificent Celsus Library?
Answer ~
The city of Ephesus (in the modern-day country of Turkey).
Eminent scholars from all over the ancient world congregated here, studying its approximately 12,000 scrolls. The Celsus library was designed by Roman architect Vitruoya, in the period 76-138 AD under Emperor Hadrian. It is one of the showpiece buildings among the remains of the ancient city.

Ruins of Celsus Library



Question ~
In which Babylonian town was the temple found which contained clay tablets dating from the first half of the 3rd millennium BCE featuring early depictions of the Great Flood?
Answer ~
The town of Nippur.

   nippur map          cuneform sumerian
Clay tablets - Map of Nippur, ca. 1500 B.C.;  An Eridu Genesis tablet.         Examples of Sumerian cuneiform script over time.

The extant work is badly damaged, with a number of significant lines missing, but can still be read and easily understood as an early Great Flood story. Cuneiform tablets contained a number of stories which appeared in the biblical narratives & predated them; among these was the Sumerian Flood Story.

The Sumerian Flood Story (also known as the Eridu Genesis, Sumerian Creation Myth, Sumerian Deluge Myth) is the oldest Mesopotamian text relating the tale of the Great Flood which would appear in later works such as the The Epic of Gilgamesh (c. 2150-1400 BCE).

The tale is also – most famously – told as the story of Noah and his ark from the biblical Book of Genesis (earliest possible date c. 1450 BCE, latest, c. 800-600 BCE). The story is dated to c. 2300 BCE in its written form but is thought to be much older, preserved by oral tradition until committed to writing.



Portuguese Library Biblioteca Joanina is home to a swarm of bats that feed on book-eating insects every night.

                                                                                                                                                              The Johannine Library (Portuguese: Biblioteca Joanina) is a Baroque library situated in the heights of theportuguese library historic centre of the University of Coimbra. The Casa da Livraria, (House of the Library), the name that it was known, received its first books in 1750, and its construction was completed between 1717 and 1728.

Biblioteca Joanina has a rather unlikely cleaning crew – in this grand old Portuguese library, bats act as pest control. Swarms of bats hide behind the rococo bookcases during the day, while at night they feast on book-damaging insects, helping preserve the over 300-year-old building and its rich cultural heritage.

The library is noted as being one of two in the world (the Mafra palace library being the other) whose books are protected from insects by the presence of a colony of bats within the library. During the night, the bats consume the insects that appear, eliminating the pest and assisting the maintenance of the stacks. Each night, workers cover the "bufets" (credenzas) with sheets of leather. In the morning the library is cleaned of bat guano.

Inside Portuguese Library 2                                       A view of the stacks and cradenzas within the Biblioteca Joanina      

 (Images by tacoekkel - , and text from Wikipedia)


A collection of forgotten English words...

abcedarian  - ‘A person or book that teaches the alphabet’.

biblioklept - ‘A book-thief; one who purloins or steals books’.

glee-dream - ‘Merriment caused by music; minstrelsy'.

majuscule - ‘A capital letter, as distinguished  from a miniscule’.

mundivagant - ‘Wandering through the world’.

noctuary - ‘An account of what passes in the night; the converse of a diary’.

pixilated -  'Led astray, as if by pixies; confused, bewildered’.

poeteeze - ‘To write poetry’.

raw-gabbit - ' Speaking confidently on a subject of which one is ignorant’.

sandillions - ‘Numbers like the sand on the seashore’.

shilling-dreadful - ‘A short novel, one of a sensational character’, ‘sold for a shilling’.

tachygraphy - 'The art of swift writing’.

thenadays - ‘In those days; in time past’.

wordify - ‘To put into words’.

zowerswopped - ‘Ill-natured. The word implies a nature so thoroughly crabbed that  
                                 the very ‘sap’ is ‘soured’.

(Taken from ‘The Word Museum: The Most Remarkable English Words Ever Forgotten’, by Jeffrey Kacirk.)


Are you dumfungled yet ?!
Here are a few playful words from the 19th century -

goshbustified -   'excessively pleased.'
absquatulate -   'to leave in a hurry'.
dumfungled -   'exhausted and all used up'.
hornswoggle -   'to bamboozle or deceive'.


Old English (Anglo-Saxon) Riddles

The riddles survive through the Exeter book, a manuscript of about the year 1000 AD.

Exeter book                                                                               The Exeter book
Riddle 47
Old English:
Moððe word fræt. Mē þæt þuhte
wrǣtlicu wyrd, þā ic þæt wundor gefrægn,
þæt se wyrm forswealg wera gied sumes,
þēof in þȳstro, þrymfæstne cwide
ond þæs strangan staþol. Stælgiest ne wæs
wihte þȳ glēawra, þe hē þām wordum swealg.

I heard of a wonder, of words moth-eaten;
That is a strange thing, I thought, weird
That a man’s song be swallowed by a worm,
His binded sentences, his bedside stand-by
Rustled in the night -  and the robber guest
Not one whit the wiser for the words he had mumbled.

Answer: Book-worm or book-moth

(From Michael Alexander (trans), 'Old English Riddles from the Exeter Book',
Anvil Press Poetry, London 1982.)


Children’s book on a stick, 17th century

 Hornbook 1     Hornbook 2      Hornbook
   Examples of Hornbooks

This rare, and a bit peculiar, kind of book was produced in the 17th century.

Called “hornbook,” it’s a children’s book. It usually contained alphabet and a collection of easy short texts, helping to learn to read.
The weight of a book at that time was much bigger than today. Therefore, the stick had a purpose. The child could easily grab a hornbook with one hand and raise it at eye height.

Why “hornbook”? These books were made to survive intensive use, just like today’s heavy-duty tablet cases. The books were printed on a sheet of paper that was subsequently covered by a thin piece of horn.

Two important things stand out when one observes the tradition: the variety of materials used to produce hornbooks – which were made of such materials as wood, lead and gingerbread – and its time of invention, which predate the proposed origins in current scholarly literature.

The heart of the hornbook is text, albeit a very small amount of it. In fact, it may well be the shortest read to survive from the early-modern period. Most hornbooks from that time are made out of wood. The pupil’s “required readings” were printed on a sheet of paper that was subsequently covered by a thin piece of horn for protection – hence the object’s name. The result is a remarkably sturdy object, which you can drop without damaging it, a minimum requirement for something used by young kids.

(From 'Medievalbooks' online Blog.)


A book that grows into a tree

Growing tree bookAt first glance, it’s just a beautiful children’s book. But it has the power like no other book. It can grow into a tree.

The book is a part of the Tree Book Tree campaign, run in Argentina by children’s publisher Pequeno Editor, and designed to teach children where books come from.

An eco-friendly ink was used to print the text and illustrations on an acid-free paper. But that’s not all. Jacaranda seeds are embedded in the pages.

The book is aimed at children aged 8-12 who, after reading, can plant the book in the ground and watch the seeds grow into a beautiful Jacaranda tree - a native Argentinian species.  Each copy comes with planting instructions and the book has also been displayed in bookshops, where it can be seen germinating.

(From Springwise online Newsletter)


This monastery in Egypt is home to the oldest continually operating library in the world, established in AD 565.

Oldest currently operating library

The library at Saint Catherine’s Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai is the oldest currently operating in the world, and has the second largest collection of ancient manuscripts and codices, just after Vatican City.

It houses several unique texts, including the Syriac Sinaiticus and, until 1859, the Codex Sinaiticus, and the oldest known complete Bible dating back to around 345 CE. 
(Author: Marc Ryckaert).


 The M6 toll road in the UK was built on two and a half million copies of pulped fiction to prevent it from cracking.

The damaged and end-of-the-line Mills & Boon novels were shredded at a recycling firm in south Wales and later added to the paste. According to materials suppliers Tarmac, the pulp prevents cracks and helps absorb sound.
Tarmac spokesman Brian Kent said the company was not suggesting there was anything wrong with Mills & Boon novels.
"We use copies of Mills & Boon books, not as a statement about what we think of the writing, but because it is so absorbent.
They may be slushy to many people, but it's their 'no-slushiness' that is their attraction as far as we are concerned.
"We want to reassure Mills & Boon readers that we're not just picking on their favourite books - other books are down there too."  (BBC news Dec 2013)

M6 Toll Road, United Kingdom.


Oldest intact and dated printed book- A Chinese translation of the Buddhist text ‘The Diamond Sutra’.  

 oldest printed book     Dunhuang caves      Detail from the Diamond sutra bookDiamond Sutra Book                                                 Dunhuang Caves                                                                                Detail from book                                                                                                                                

The Diamond Sutra is an ancient Buddhist sermon that generation of Buddhists have memorized and chanted since at least the fifth century. The sutra was originally written in Sanskrit in India, from which it was translated to Chinese in 401 AD. A copy of the Chinese translation, printed on an 18-feet-long, yellow-dyed scroll of paper, was discovered in 1900 by Daoist monk Wang Yuanlu inside a sealed-up cave at a site called “Caves of the Thousand Buddhas” near Dunhuang, in northwest China. The Diamond Sutra scroll was among more than 40,000 scrolls and documents hidden in the secret cave about a thousand years ago when the area was threatened by a neighbouring kingdom.

The last few lines of the text, the colophon, identifies who printed it, when and why. It reads: “Reverently made for universal free distribution by Wang Jie on behalf of his two parents, 11 May 868.” The precise date makes this particular edition of Diamond Sutra the worlds’ oldest printed and dated book in existence. The explicit public domain dedication is also the first in the history of creative work.

This books was printed using wood block printing – a technique where the text to be printed is carefully carved as a relief pattern on a block of wood, and then stamped on paper or fabric after dipping the block in a pool of ink.

The dry desert air provided the perfect conditions for the preservation of the paper and the silk scrolls inside. The yellow dye used on the scrolls comes from the Amur Cork Tree which has insecticidal properties. This contributed to the preservation of the scrolls.
While individual sheets of woodblock-printed paper have been found dating to the early Tang Dynasty (7th century), the Diamond Sutra is the earliest complete book to be found intact.

(From Wikipedia)