Book Nerdery


Elizabeth Creith

I belong to a self-confessed group of word nerds. We met online, but every couple of years those of us who can get together in real life do so. We call the event a “wordapalooza”, or “WAP” for short. This year’s was in Montreal.

We are a serious group, oh, yes, we are. Look, we’re nerds, and nerds have no sense of humour. (I’m having such a hard time keeping my face straight!) Really, we’re extremely serious. We’re serious about words, and we’re serious about our word games. Slip a “U” up your sleeve at Scrabble and you’re likely to lose the hand at the wrist. Put down an unfamiliar word and you’d better be able to define it or it’s no more margaritas for you. We’re the group that invented duplicate Boggle, okay? (It’s okay if you don’t understand that—we’re the word nerds here, not you.)

Perhaps where our nerdiness shows most is in the book exchange. For people who met online, and who do most of their interacting without ever seeing one another’s faces or hearing one another’s voices, we’re incredibly fond of books. I’m talking paper ones here, not those stupid e-books. You can write your name in a real book, and then when someone else picks it up you can say “Like hell it’s yours—look, there’s my bookplate, right there!” You can make notes in the margins. (I understand that there’s an app for that, too, but then you see everybody’s marginal notes. To me this is like finding someone else’s teeth marks on your gum. Eeeeuch!)

Everyone brings a wrapped book to the exchange and gets to choose. Some books are hotly contested. It’s completely untrue, by the way, that one of us once offered his firstborn son in exchange for the microphotographed OED that someone else had chosen. That’s just a vicious rumour. It was his dog, and a case of beer.

To this year’s book exchange I brought a book on forensic archaeology called Written in Bones. If I were to characterize it—and I believe I’m about to—I’d call it CSI: The History Channel. I wasn’t sure how well it would go over, but I needn’t have worried. The woman who picked it had to fight off four other people who threatened to steal it from her. It looks like lots of word nerds are also archaeology nerds. Or maybe they’re just closet CSI fans.

But OED apparently trumps CSI any day, because this year everyone went home with their own children, and dogs, and their own beer.

Books mentioned in this column:
The Compact Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford University Press, 1991) 
Written in Bones: How Human Remains Unlock the Secrets of the Dead by Paul Bahn (Firefly Books, 2012)


Elizabeth Creith is a biblioholic and incurable librocubicularist. Not only does she buy, read, shelve and stack books, but she also writes them and on occasion makes them by hand. Elizabeth lives and writes in Wharncliffe, Northern Ontario, distracted occasionally by her husband, dog, and cat. The Scriptorium is where she blogs about writing and life. Contact Elizabeth.



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