New words enter English all the time. One major source of new words and senses is technological innovation. If a device is created that didn’t previously exist, it needs a name, and if the device is popular enough, that name, along with other words to describe the functions of the device, enters widespread usage. So how exactly does technological innovation change the way we talk and think? To put this question in context, let’s explore some new words and senses that have entered English thanks to the invention and ever-growing use of e-readers.

The term “e-reader” debuted as recently as the 1990s. When it first entered English, e-reader referred to a person who reads electronic versions of legacy-print materials. Shortly thereafter, e-reader also took on the sense of the handheld device used by people to read digital files. The term “e-book” predates “e-reader,” and has been used in English since the late 1980s.

Over the last decade, as e-readers such as the Kindle and the Nook have become less expensive and more accessible to the general public, the words to describe reading have started to expand to include digital reading. The term “book” now can refer to a downloadable file in addition to a traditional printed book. Bookmarks also continue to exist in the realm of e-readers. Bookmark as a verb has been around since the 1960s, mainly in the computing context, so its appropriation by e-readers is no surprise.

However, other words have less traction in the digital arena. Pages, for example, do not exist in e-books in the same way that they do in physical books. On e-readers, the size and orientation of text can be manipulated, making the concept of e-book page numbers less firm. While page numbers sometimes appear in certain electronic versions of books, oftentimes users of e-readers opt for viewing the percentage of the book read over page numbers. Goodreads, the popular social networking site where people can track and review books, even defaults to the “percentage read” of a book when the e-book option is chosen. The language used to describe moving through a book has also started to shift. With no physical pages to turn, people might move forward or backward in a book by “tapping” or “swiping” rather than “turning” a page. Similarly, the words “pinch” and “scroll” have attained new senses of their own because of their use to describe navigation on touchscreen devices.

The rise of e-readers has prompted speculation about the ways the mind processes words on a screen compared to words in paper books–the concern that holding a physical book promotes understanding in a way that staring at a screen does not.  A recent study by Sara Margolin suggests that e-readers do not hinder reading comprehension, at least in short passages of text. As research like this gains ground, the use of e-readers will only increase, and with it, new ways of conceiving of and talking about reading will surface in the language, and in turn, enter dictionaries.


  1. VinceP1974 -  July 25, 2013 - 7:34 am

    Before I actually used an e-reader I used to be one of these people who said “oh, I like how a book feels in my hands” (because that’s what everyone else seems to say too). But then I actually used a Kindle and any stupid notion about feeling or smelling paper went out the window. Thus I suspect all these people clinging to the strange notion that the feel of paper somehow makes reading content more “pleasurable” are just talking from their posterior.

  2. Rae -  July 22, 2013 - 3:27 am

    I love the feel of the book in my hands. I love to go out and browse books in a store where I am surrounded by hundreds of books and the faint musty smell those book stores have. I have tried to read ebooks, but its not as much fun. Nothing can compare to the experience of holding the book in your hands, and turning the pages one by one. :)

  3. Sky Flake -  July 17, 2013 - 5:45 pm

    I resisted getting an ereader for a long time, but curiosity finally got the best of me and I bought a Kindle keyboard. I quickly realized that I liked the convenience, but not the format. I bought a Kindle Fire & haven’t looked back. I still have paper books, especially for reference and patterns, but I am slowly seeing the benefit of reading them electronically, as well, since I’m able to read the larger formats comfortably on the Kindle app I put on my computer.

    I think the citation/page number difficulties could be remedied very simply by having a “standard” font and size (10 or 12) and basing the page numbers on that standard. The page number could remain in the same “place” (linked to a word, for example) even if a user made the font size larger (several swipes/taps to one page) or smaller (several pages to one screen).

    Also, two things I really like best about my Kindle Fire haven’t been mentioned yet. 1) I read before going to sleep and my spouse is often dreaming away while I do. I don’t need to use an ambient light and I’m able to read in white letters on a black ground, both of which allow him to snore on unhindered. 2) I started listening to books way back in the dark ages (1970s) and love them. I’m able to have an audiobook and an ebook on my Kindle so I may listen to and read the material simultaneously when I’m learning new things. I find I learn faster and retain more.

  4. Renee -  July 8, 2013 - 1:47 pm

    Don’t understand why everyone is complaining about them. It was just an article about the word e-reader, not a book club meeting to moan about them. I love my tablet and the ability to read from any of my devices. Does it suck when something is dead? Yeah. But I guess since I’m in college and appreciate what technology can offer, I get over the bad side of technology.

  5. bd model -  July 7, 2013 - 11:17 pm

    I just love book. the electronic media are reducing our time and make us lazy. But I love book and always I love book. thanks everybody

  6. Bangla news -  July 7, 2013 - 11:15 pm

    Prapak Shrestha, You are right. Actually, ebook can not give the pleasure as paper book. Although something is better than nothing….!

  7. Ian Wood -  July 7, 2013 - 9:38 am

    I don’t read books for a living (I just wish I did!) but I do read and review them on a modest blog about reading and writing: http://ianwoodnovellum.blogspot.com/ .

    I love books and prefer a hardback to a hard pad, but I have no problem with the e-version. It’s actually nice to have the choice, but I don’t see the point in commenting that “you should get an ebook” or that “you’re missing out if you abandon paper books” because in the end it is a choice that’s our own, and it ultimately comes down to what we’re used to, what we’re most comfortable with, what we need, and what we can afford.

    I agree with Leon Mire’s idea that it would be cool to have an ebook that emulated a paperback with turnable pages – then when you’re done with a book you could just download the next one on your reading list and read the same book over with different text! You could even slap it onto your shelf when you’re done for the day. A waterproof version of such a book would be readable in the bath, and unlike a paperback or an ebook, it wouldn’t be ruined if you dropped it into the water! But I can’t see anything like that being more than a novelty in this era of single item/multi-use technology.

    Ebooks have the advantage of portability and search-ability, but for me, you can’t beat the smell and texture, and heft of a brand new book in your hand! There is an issue however which no one seems to have raised yet, and that is which version – the paper book or the ebook – contributes most to depletion of resources and pollution of the environment? I don’t know. Does anyone?

    Even if you make paper books from recycled paper or from specially grown trees, it still costs energy to create them – but they are eminently recyclable. Does that amount to less than what it costs to make an ebook and then keep it in batteries/recharging of same? What, in practice (not in theory!) happens to all those old ebooks when people migrate to newer technology? How much does it alleviate the energy usage when paper books are donated to Goodwill or some such venue, and thereby recycled many times, whereas no one really does this with ebooks?

    There’s more to this issue than merely personal convenience and preference. There’s the health and welfare of a planet to consider.

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