The Japanese Created a Word for People Who Hoard Books

If you collect books for your coffee table without ever reading them, you might be guilty of tsundoku.


Every language has words that mean something so specific that you won’t find an equivalent word in any other language. For instance, English may not have any equivalent for these beautiful romantic foreign words, but at least we have “gobbledygook” and “facepalm.” (And don’t even get us started on the words specific to certain regions of the USA!)

One such word, the recently coined term tsundoku, is unique to Japanese, but we bet you know at least one person who embodies it. (Or perhaps you are that person!)

The word tsundoku refers to the act, or the hobby, of obtaining far more books than one could ever possibly read. You tsundoku if you stock up on aesthetically pleasing books that you never plan on reading, just to fill up an empty bookshelf. You may also tsundoku if you ambitiously buy a new book every time you get a Barnes & Noble coupon, planning to read them all but knowing that you have far too many.

The term originated as slang, as many new words do (just take a look at these new additions to the dictionary). It’s a combination of two existing Japanese words: dokusho, which means reading books, and tsunde-oku, which means letting things pile up without dealing with them. Thus, tsundoku (which is pronounced “tsoon-doh-koo”) was born.

Of course, the word doesn’t necessarily mean that stocking up on loads of books is a bad thing; just that the habit is popular enough to deserve its own moniker. However, if you think you might want to break yourself of your tsundoku habit, try donating some of the superfluous literature: follow the example of these restaurant owners who give away free books to every customer. Or, if clutter is your main problem, go paperless: invest in a Kindle or Nook, or try listening to audiobooks.

Or, of course, you can just embrace your habit loud and proud, now that there’s a word for it. It’s up to you. Next, learn about the crazy long English word that could fill a book on its own.


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Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a word nerd who has been writing for since 2017. You can find her byline on pieces about grammar, fun facts, the meanings of various head-scratching words and phrases, and more. Meghan graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English in 2017; her creative nonfiction piece “Anticipation” was published in the Spring 2017 issue of Angles literary magazine.