I know, that most of you will think, that it is absurd, but please read to the end.

Sorry for my English


When I read the Ostrog Bible I saw, that in the OCS the verb "to unbend a book" was used (instead of "to open a book").

At the first onset I thought about a knee, because in Russian we use that verb with this noun.

Whereupon I thought, that the English/German word knee/Knie is consonant to the first part of the OCS word "kniga".

Thereupon I thought, that the Old Slavonic laguage has a borrowed words, where "ga" is a suffix (for an example, French cheval "a horse" -> Old Slavonic chevlaga/chevluga "an old horse").

Thereupon I thought, that if someone doesn't have a table he put his "kniga" on a "knee".

Thereupon I thought, that the English verb "unbend" translates to German "geradebiegen".

Thereupon I thought about Bogen (bow), Bucht (bight) and Buch (book).

Thereupon I thought, that a knee bore little comparison to a book spine.

Thereupon I got an answer, that "The English use of 'spine' for that part of a book is modern, only from the early 20th century. Before that, this part of the book was generally known as the 'back' "

Question: Does the English word "back" somehow relate to "book"? I can not imagine a book without a back.

The official etymology:

back: from Proto-Germanic *baką possibly from Proto-Indo-European *bʰogo (literally “bending”);
book: from Proto-Germanic *bōks or from Proto-Germanic *bōk

  • Please include the research you’ve done, or consider if your question suits our English Language Learners site better. Questions that can be answered using commonly-available references are off-topic. – Hot Licks Jun 4 at 21:51
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    Ger Bogen means bow, curve, and also "sheet [of paper]". That's my etymon for book, thanks for asking, I cannot explain it, though. back on the other hand I compare to bacon, Backe (cheek), Becken (hip, basin, pool, sink), Becher (beaker), so semantic extension from hip to the whole back-side. The same way the upper back, Kreutz ("cross", shoulders and stem) is a pars pro toto. Now please don't get exited, a cross is such a basic pattern that it is everywhere and thus has lent itself well to christian symbolism, more so than vice versa. – vectory Jun 4 at 21:52
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    Oh. You've answered your own question in the question. – Andrew Leach Jun 4 at 22:09
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    @vectory - I don't see any source that lists the etymology of "book" as "uncertain". Both Oxford and Etymology Online say "Old English bōc (originally also ‘a document or charter’), bōcian ‘to grant by charter’, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch boek and German Buch, and probably to beech (on which runes were carved)", or something thereabouts. – Hot Licks Jun 4 at 22:30
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    Since somebody had asked, now deleted, a question about a connection between AGr. konu "twig" and a similar Russian word for "article" over on Linguistics.SE, I noticed bough "twig, branch", PIE *bʰeh₂ǵús, which looks very, very similfar to *bʰeh₂ǵʰús "beech". The irony here is article < artus "joint; (poetic) limb". So, get bent?! I mean, don't expect that to be an explanation, but allow for some curiosity maybe. – vectory Jun 5 at 4:43


back (n.)
Old English bæc "back," from Proto-Germanic *bakam

book (n.)
Old English boc "book, writing, written document," generally referred (despite phonetic difficulties) to Proto-Germanic *bōk(ō)-, from *bokiz "beech"

– both from Etymonline.com

They are superficially similar in English, having a single syllable b–k, but come from different roots.

The resource etymonline.com is recommended, especially if you do not have access to the OED.

  • "phonetic difficulties", what about the semantic gap? You should mention--and OP should mention if they knew--that e.g. wiktionary lists "Proto-Germanic baką, possibly from Proto-Indo-European *bʰogo (literally “bending”)" under *back. So two unknowns can't give a definite answer, and the question is thus legitimate. Although, OP should not expect much more than this as an answer. An opposing answer concludin "yes" would be difficult to come by and worthy of more prestigious venues. The middle ground, "I don't know" does not need to be posted. That leaves chit-chat – vectory Jun 4 at 22:46
  • @vectory I have no idea what the ‘phonetic difficulties’ Etymonline allude to are: there are no phonetic difficulties. There are some morphological difficulties (why does the derived sense ‘book’ appear to be an athematic stem whereas the primary sense ‘beech’ appears to be a thematic derivation?), but they are not insurmountable, and there are parallels. As for the semantic gap, there isn’t one. It is so common for names of writing materials to spawn forms referring to the thing written that it might almost be called standard (cf. Latin liber, cōdex, Sanskrit भूर्ज bhūrjá-). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 6 at 6:59
  • @JanusBahsJacquet I see no phonetic difficulties either, for lack of knowledge at least, and it may be that they meant morphologic. Yet again I don't know what you mean, although I brought up the point myself before, but you might mean something else. Noticing that Ger. Buche is similar to a lot of other feminine tree names that end with a regular feminine -e Ablaut, that however may also be a genitive morpheme. While *boks "book" may--to an English speaker at least--look like a genetive form, too. That is, I'm puzzled by the PGem forms *boks "book", *boko, *bokijaz "beech". – vectory Jun 6 at 19:38
  • I found that rebracketing *bōkastabaz (Ger Buchstabe, En. "book stafe, letter, alphabet-letter"?) gives tabaz, quite comparable to Lat. tabula, table, tablet, Ger. Tafel "black board, table", especially notable for the sense list of figures either way. That leaves *bokas which might contract to *boks. Incidentally my neighbor has a door sign engraved in the cross-section cut from a tree branch. But this could be made from pretty much any wood. Why should the birch be symbolic? Neither liber nor codex derive from a specific tree. – vectory Jun 6 at 19:50
  • Compare also Buchsbaum, "box-tree", box and letter box, but also bosch "woods, forest" and bush, brush. Due to the opening question about bending and flexing compare bow, arch and the archer's bow as something we know to be adorned with etchings, and spiritually significant. The sign A turned sideways even looks like a bow (or an eye, or a dead cow, ...) – vectory Jun 6 at 20:02

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