"people of the book"

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Sat Jun 16 03:33:37 UTC 2001

>I was surprised by the following sentence in the George Will column on the
>"official English" issue:
>      Many Asians, like Jews, are "people of the book" (the Mandarin and
>      Talmudic traditions) and are ascending America's surest ladder of
>      social mobility, the system of higher education.
>... I have never known it to refer to books in general, or, by metaphoric
>extension therefrom, to literacy or studiousness. Is G. Will originating a
>(dare I? ... Yes!) perversion of meaning here, or is he perpetuating one?

This "double-entendre" has been used before. I can't remember where I first
saw it but I think it may have been as the name of a volunteer community
library organization, like "Friends of the Library".

A quick Web-glance shows "people of the book" applied to (usually Jewish)
library associations, literacy efforts, book fairs, and the like ... using
"the book" as opposed to "the Book", to refer to book-lovers (or, here,
persons of literate/scholarly tradition) rather than to Bible- or
Torah-lovers (or persons of Jewish/Christian religious tradition or so).

-- Doug Wilson

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