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Rarissima and rariora are two nouns meaning "extremely rare books, manuscripts, or prints" and "rare books" respectively. Is there a word denoting common or everyday books, or books that have no special quality about them whatsoever? Here is the sentence it'll be used in:

"[T]hey would discover that the books they saw through the storefront window were not familiar and fathomable [noun I am looking for], but rather foreign and fathomless rarissima, wholly incompatible with the modern mind, and therefore of no interest to the modern reader."

I would like this word to be one word. The word doesn't have to be plural like rarissima and rariora, but it would be preferable. Thanks.

PS: This might be a tough one, as rarissima and rariora are recherché words themselves.

How I came upon these two delightful words.


I am a big logophile, so I make it my business to know my native language as thoroughly as possible. I was looking specifically for a word meaning "rare books," so, on a writer's hunch, I started with curio. (After all, rare books are “something considered...rare.”) That led me to Merriam-Webster’s thesaurus and the connotatively ribald word curiosa. I then decided to look up curiosa in the OED. Once I did, I wanted to see if there were any similar words referring to books in the OED's Historical Thesaurus (which is incredibly useful, by the way), and from there I found rarissima and rariora. (Many thanks, Oxford.) I was ecstatic to find two words meaning exactly what I wanted them to mean; English can oftentimes surprise you like that. But I believe to every word there is another with an opposite or partially opposite meaning, and that’s why I am looking to this site for answers. I realize that there’s not a word for everything, but for most things exists a word; and I hope someone can find the word I seek.

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    Where did you find these words? It's amazing that they're just formed from the Latin words rare, yet they refer specifically to books. A Latin-derived word somewhat opposite or rare would be "quotidian", but there's no noun form of that I know of. And it's funny, because even if there were it probably wouldn't refer to books specifically. Those are some good finds you have there. – Zebrafish Oct 21 '18 at 7:39
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    @Zebrafish Thank you. I am a big logophile, so I make it my business to know my native language as thoroughly as possible. I was looking specifically for a word meaning "rare books," so, on a writer's hunch, I started with "curio." That led me to the connotatively ribald word "curiosa." Then that took me to the OED's Historical Thesaurus (which is incredibly useful, by the way), and from there I found rarissima and rariosa. I was ecstatic to find two words meaning exactly what I wanted them to mean. English can surprise you like that. – user320354 Oct 21 '18 at 7:52
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    @HeWhoShallNotBeNamed That background would do nicely in the question text itself. It gives some flavour to your interaction with those words and would put you in good company with one of the best-regarded OPs on the site. – Lawrence Oct 21 '18 at 13:28
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    nls.uk/collections/rare-books/beginners Books that are not rare, are just books. Not every rare book has intrinsic value, as a Gutenberg Bible would have.... – Lambie Oct 23 '18 at 20:30
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    You could have a pretty stupid book that could be a "rare book". Rare book has multiple meanings. – Lambie Oct 23 '18 at 20:32

12 Answers 12

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I suggest that the nearest Latin antonyms would be trivia or vulgaria.

EDIT If you don't mind having English then 'commonplace' should serve.

"You're like to find rarissima/rariora in an antiquarian bookstore, but the average retail bookstore like Barnes & Noble will only stock the commonplace."

  • “Trivia” doesn’t denote or connote commonality nor does it have any relationship to books. – user320354 Oct 22 '18 at 21:56
  • I've added another couple of possibilities. (I wonder if you mean 'commonalty' rather than 'commonality') – chasly from UK Oct 22 '18 at 22:11
  • No, I mean commonality. – user320354 Oct 22 '18 at 22:13
  • “Commonalty” is very different from “commonality.” – user320354 Oct 22 '18 at 22:21
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    @user320354, it is true that the meaning of trivia does not have any special relationship to books, but the same is true of the meanings of rarissima and rariora; they just happen to have been accepted among book collectors for a narrow books-related purpose. – jsw29 Oct 24 '18 at 0:40
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Of course, the common phrase for the antonym is mass-market books.

But purely as a single word, a possibility is potboilers:

[Merriam-Webster]

: a usually inferior work (as of art or literature) produced chiefly for profit

// The problem with Oscar Wilde's 1895 potboiler An Ideal Husband is precisely the thing for which its author is routinely praised: its flood of exquisite witticisms.
— Justin Hayford, Chicago Reader, "A new production of An Ideal Husband humanizes Oscar Wilde," 13 Apr. 2018

Although there is some judgment behind this word (but that may also work in favour of a complete antonym, if rare books are associated with the intelligentsia), it has the implication that these are books that are popular, common, and sell. You can find them everywhere. They're the kind of books that you'd find in an airport or train station store, and which quickly grab people's attention as "easy reads" or "pulp fiction."

A synonym for of potboiler, one which doesn't necessarily imply low quality, is page-turner. But while many common and popular books likely are page-turners, the reverse isn't always true.

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    I think both these words are more often used to comment on the quality of the writing rather than the high availability of copies (which is what I believe the question is asking about). – Andrew Leach Oct 21 '18 at 20:50
  • @AndrewLeach Yes, exactly. – user320354 Oct 22 '18 at 0:39
  • Truthfully, I would use subliterature instead of “potboilers.” – user320354 Oct 22 '18 at 17:05
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+100

How about

ubiquitaries

The meaning of this word is not restricted to books, but in your sentence it would be clear it is referring to books. From the OED:

ubiquitary, n. and adj.

A person or thing that is, can be, or seems to be, everywhere at once; someone or something that is ubiquitous (in various senses).

For some reason it is 'frequently used (chiefly humorously) of insects'.

OED entry for ubiquitary

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"Widely available" and "readily available" are two word phrases indicating that something is not difficult to obtain. In the context of currently published books they would cover everything that was popular and, probably, all books which have been shortlisted for major prizes such as the Booker. In the case of secondhand, and even collectable, books they would refer to ones of which many copies were on the market.

This might, for example, include 1950s editions of Beatrix Potter or 1930s editions of Conan Doyle but not first editions.

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    Right. Exactly. If they are not rare, they are commonplace. – Lambie Oct 23 '18 at 20:31
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For books in specific, "mass market". More colorfully, "pulps" (which was dismissed in the comments) or colorfully as well as archaic, "dime novels".

Mass market

Mass-market products are designed and produced for selling to large numbers of people. e.g. "...mass-market paperbacks"

Dime novel

a cheap melodramatic or sensational novel, usually in paperback and selling for ten cents, especially such an adventure novel popular c1850 to c1920.

Example

They would discover that the books they saw through the storefront window were not familiar and fathomable dime novels, but rather foreign and fathomless rarissima, wholly incompatible with the modern mind, and therefore of no interest to the modern reader

2

In that particular context, I would suggest bestsellers. From Wikipedia:

A bestseller is, usually, a book that is included on a list of top-selling or frequently-borrowed titles, normally based on publishing industry and book trade figures and library circulation statistics . . . .

By definition, bestsellers are at the opposite end of the rarity continuum from rarissima and generally have broad appeal, though they aren't necessarily "nothing special". The term also has the advantages of being a single word (though it is sometimes hyphenated or even written as an open compound) and at least strongly implying "books".

I also like that the word bestseller is itself "familiar and fathomable" with its Germanic roots and clearly English formation, in contrast to rarissima's more high-flown, Latinate sound and pluralization—but with the consonance of their repeated prominent S sounds to tie them together.

So in context:

[T]hey would discover that the books they saw through the storefront window were not familiar and fathomable bestsellers, but rather foreign and fathomless rarissima, wholly incompatible with the modern mind, and therefore of no interest to the modern reader.

2

These Latin words are bibliophiles' jargon. So the usage is bound by the concerns of the bibliophile: a book's 1) interest/importance, 2) beauty and 3) rarity. 'Rariora' and 'Rarissima' in Latin are neuter plural adjectives in the comparative and superlative. These qualities are related to the qualities that make books desirable and valuable to people who COLLECT books, which are usually, therefore, second hand. Of the three, rarity is particularly important in determining the book's financial value. They are graded: 'rariora' is the comparative 'rarer' and 'rarissima' is the superlative 'rarest' or 'extremely rare'. I do not think you can have opposites to these words in the bibliophile world. Already the best likely words have been suggested: 'commonplace. Your own 'familiar', possibly 'fathomable', both of which give a good idea of what you are trying to convey.

Your use of 'rarissima' is a good metaphorical usage. It is unlikely it will be identified with with its bibliophile origin. Which is just as well, since, as far as I can tell, you were not trying to suggest they are merely highly collectable. As it is, I suspect many will take it as you intend: qualitatively 'rare'. But here is the thing. English is capable of turning adjectives into nouns in a rather similar way as Latin does, not by the convention that and adjective can stand on its own without a noun by being in the neuter gender, but by adding the definite article. So: "none but the brave deserve the fair.'

They would discover that the books they saw through the storefront window were not the familiar and fathomable, but rather foreign and fathomless rarissima..."

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The expression I would use is either "mass market books" or just "mass markets". The former is pretty common and doesn't need much elaboration so I'm going to focus on the latter.

It's not an extremely common expression, but I would estimate it's more popular than "rarissima" and "rariora" are. I would also classify it as slightly informal, but it would be fine in the sentence given in the question. It's sometimes written hyphenated.

Here are some examples of the expression in the wild:

The paperbacks were typically priced at 25 cents when hardcover books were $2 or $3. ... And mass-markets were available in tens of thousands of locations
The Shatzkin Files: The Most Powerful Trends in Publishing

Femmes Fatales: I've Amassed Masses of Mass Markets! Have you?

The other good news is that these “premium” mass markets are generally $10 new compared to $8 for a new traditional mass market or $15 for a new trade paperback. So, for a price closer to a mass market, you can enjoy the something close to the readability of a trade paperback or hardcover.
Tall Mass Markets?

I found an example on Twitter:

Yeah, hardcovers last longer, but they're a lot harder to hold and read than trades. At least they're not...ugh...#massmarkets.
(link)

I also found a number of examples via the Instagram hashtag #massmarkets:

I collect vintage mass markets- and I love them all. [...] I only keep books I really like so going through the mass markets wasn't too painful (link)

I just ordered a bunch of books so I had to make some room on my bookshelf. I combined two shelves into one, mass markets stack so well. (link)

All my Mom's old Stephen King novels from before there were barcodes on the books and mass markets were only $4.50. (link)

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In dealing with this question, it is important to first note that the term book can be used for two different concepts: that of physical objects consisting of bound pages, and that of lengthy texts, however embodied. Rarissima and rariora are species of the former, not of the latter: they apply to books as potentially collectable physical objects, and are unrelated to the intellectual content of the books. A book does not have to contain profound wisdom to be rariora. On the other hand, a recently published, in-print book does not qualify, even if it contains sophisticated, erudite discussion of a narrow issue that can be appreciated only by a highly specialised audience. The label also cannot be applied to present-day photographic reproductions of rariora, even though they contain the same words as the originals. Terms that are applied to books on the basis of their content (potboilers, mass-market books, bestsellers, pulp fiction) therefore cannot be antonyms for rariora and rarissima.

The next thing to note is that rariora and rarissima are not words of everyday English. Although they are ordinary words in Latin, in English they appear only within the jargon of book collectors. (Incidentally, their meanings in Latin have no special connection to books; in English they are confined to books simply because it is book collectors that imported them into English, and nobody else uses them.) When one is looking for an antonym of a term belonging to a jargon, one should first be looking within the same jargon. One, however, cannot expect to find in the jargon of book collectors a special term for relatively cheap, readily available books, because such books are outside the domain of book collecting. A book collector needs to speak of such books only when he steps outside the world of book collecting; in such a situation he will probably use for them the same word that everybody else uses: books. There is no need for a special term for books that are not extraordinarily rare, because when the term books is used without a special qualification, it can generally be presumed that the books referred to are not extraordinarily rare (or extraordinary in any other way). The word books would work perfectly in the OP’s sentence; the sentence doesn’t need anything more specific.

Now, if there is no antonym for rariora/rarissima that would cover all books that are neither rariora nor rarissima, could there perhaps be a gradable antonym for rarissima? That is, if rarissima stands for books at the extreme end of some spectrum (as its superlative form indicates), is there perhaps a term for the books at the other extreme end of the same spectrum? Such books would be of no interest to book collectors, but perhaps they would be of enough interest to somebody else to make it worthwhile to have a special term for them. Rariora and rarissima are not books that are merely rare; they are books whose rarity, combined with high demand for them, makes them extraordinarily valuable. At the opposite end of the relevant spectrum would thus be books whose abundance, combined with low demand for them, makes them nearly worthless. They are the books that their publishers are selling away at the prices that are so low that they may be below the cost of printing them. And in the book industry there is indeed a term for them: they are remainders (or remaindered books).

  • Score this answer for the writer's sheer love of accuracy. Fun read. – Kay V Oct 28 '18 at 1:45
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I would probably go with "pulp (fiction/literature)".

The term comes from the cheap pulp upon which the text is published, so it's certainly not something valuable. Now, that doesn't mean it's not rare; perhaps in 100 years only 1 copy will exist. But, given a long enough time frame, then, every book is rare.

This term at least denotes that, at the time of publication, the book was not considered rare or prized in any sense.

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  • Eventually I might open a used book store; and I'd like to call the categories for the rare ones, "rarissima" (extremely rare) and "rariora" (rare). However, for the most common, low value books, although someone actually suggested they ought to be called 'shredder fodder', I shall rather insist that they be categorized instead under the heading, "ubiquity", because they seem to be everywhere.

ubiquity (n.) "omnipresence," 1570s, from Modern Latin ubiquitas, from Latin ubique "everywhere," from ubi "where" (see ubi) + que "any, also, and, ever," as a suffix giving universal meaning to the word it is attached to, from PIE root *kwe "and."

  1. Los Angeles Times Crossword Answers (June 11, 2017), 2. Online Etymology Dictionary

ubiquity NOUN The fact of appearing everywhere or of being very common.

"The title symbolically equips the book with explosive power and a procreative, insectlike ubiquity".

Oxford Living Dictionaries

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I am answering my own question. The word I found that was closest to what I want is the noun "hack," definition 6a of the second instance of "hack" in the OED. It means, "Something (chiefly a piece of writing, or a spoken phrase) that is in such widespread and indiscriminate use that it has become trite, uninteresting, or commonplace; (also) trite or uninteresting written work."

Thus, my sentence will read,

“[T]hey would discover that the books they saw through the storefront window were not familiar and fathomable hacks, but rather foreign and fathomless rarissima, wholly incompatible with the modern mind, and therefore of no interest to the modern reader."

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The word doesn't really fit the tone of the sentence, so I am still looking for good suggestions.

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    But commonplace works for many things, not just books. – Mitch Oct 24 '18 at 18:32
  • @Mitch Yes, but books are “things,” are they not? Honestly, I’d prefer a more specific word, but that’s all I could find. I’m still open to better answers. – user321514 Oct 24 '18 at 18:34
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    @TheLogophile You asked for a word for 'not rare books', not 'not rare things'. Searching for just the right word is a noble endeavor, getting just the right nuance. But that bon-mot-bility also comes with it the darker side of being a stickler for exactly the right nuance. So if you ask for a particular thing, we expect answers to be exactly that particular thing, fitting exactly the criteria you give. If you are loose in your desires, then this is just a big opinion discussion or writing advice. Welcome back again to the site, read all the FAQs, and acculturate yourself. – Mitch Oct 24 '18 at 18:43
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    @TheLogophile I'm nowhere near implying that you delete your answer. I'm just telling you how confused I am that you ask for one specific thing but you accept a different thing. This is more about asking you to tweak your question so that it asks for non-rare things, not limited to books. – Mitch Oct 24 '18 at 19:08

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