You know when you buy a book, but never have time to get to read it, and eventually it ends up perpetually lying on a bookshelf with no end in sight? There's a word for that. Tsundoku is a noun describing exactly that, when unread tomes get lumped together. It originated in the late 1800s in Meiji-era Japan, from a verb, tsunde oku, which meant "to pile up". But how did this get applied to books? Through a pun! Yep, even in old-timey Nippon they had senses of humor: the 'de oku in tsunde oku sounds like the word doku, meaning "book", so it got applied to books. Later, the cumbersome word was shortened to something a little more manageable, or tsundoku. Now, tracing the etymology of tsunde oku, the first word might come from a term meaning "pinch", through a connection of "hold", and oku meant "inside". As I've explained before, etymologizing Japanese, Chinese, and the like is difficult because the origins are obscure and the letters and meanings come from different places.
Adam Aleksic is a sophomore studying linguistics and government at Harvard University. He also has disturbing interests in politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, and law.