Untranslatable – tsundoku

Dec 6, 2012 | Translation

I often talk about our First Edition Book Club on these pages, and in fact also belong to a local book club. This week, both meetings have had to be cancelled due to a) better things to do and b) haven’t read the book yet! The FE club, in particular, often struggle to get the book finished in time (we’re all so busy sorting out translations for our lovely clients!) and have even specified short word counts to try to get round this. But how many books have you got, sitting on your shelf, bedside table or e-reader, that you’ve never read, and probably never will?

I, for example, bought Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment about 20 years ago in Thailand, and promptly left it on a bus. On my return to the UK, I re-purchased and it has sat on my book shelf ever since. I feel that just it being there is probably enough.

So, is there a word for that? In English, no (but I’m open to suggestions!) but in Japanese – yes!

積ん読 (tsundoku)
the act of leaving a book unread after buying it,
typically piling it up together with other such unread books.

Literally, 積む (tsumu, to pile up) and 読 (doku, to read) – to leave piled up. Love it.


Thanks to betterthanenglish.com and en.wiktionary.org
image: © Sherry Tetens Long | Dreamstime.com