This morning I was reading an e-book, which means, of course, that I was using an electronic device. It struck me how lovely it was to be still calling it a “book”, even though there are no leaves to be turned over, no paper. This is especially heart-warming when you consider the origin of the word.
The Middle English word book developed from Old English boc. It meant “book” then, too, but not just as we understand it today. It would have referred to any piece of writing, any written document. But what is interesting is where the word came from before that. It is thought to be from Proto-Germanic *bokiz or perhaps *boks, (both roots unattested, back formations from the words that came from them, such as in English, German and Swedish), which meant “beech tree”. This suggests that those early people often used beechwood to inscribe on, their runes may have been on beechwood tablets.
The Proto-Germanic word *boks is thought to have come from an earlier source – Proto-Indo-European word *bhagos; “beech tree”. Why beech and not some other tree? Perhaps because beech bark is thin and can be easily marked, and the bark has the propensity to retain the marks. Or perhaps simply this era of early literacy came about because of the abundancy of beech trees!