Bookworm and honnomushi, as well as being the common informal term for bibliophiles, is used in both languages to describe any insect that is thought to bore through books. Actual book-borers, unlike avid book buying readers in Japan, are actually uncommon. The Oxford Dictionary defines them as: “the larva of a wood-boring beetle which feeds on the paper and glue in books”.
These pesky creatures that librarians have hated for centuries are sometimes referred to as booklouse (Liposcelis divinatorius). There are also some types of moths that are attracted to book bindings.
Japan has one of the world’s highest literary rates and the average Japanese person reads for four hours per week – making the country very fertile ground for nurturing metaphorical bookworms.
The term honnomushi is used regularly by Japanese bloggers in writing about the books they are reading. And there are many publications depicting book-loving bookworm characters, often girls, such as Bungaku Shojo (Literature Girl), a 16-volume light novel series by Mizuki Nomura about members of a high school literature club that has sold more than a million copies.
There are many different terms in Japanese that use the word bug or insect; not just honnomushi. Other interesting examples include: mushinoshirase (message from a bug) meaning foreboding, hunch, a gut feeling; and mushinoiki (breath of a bug) meaning lifeless or barely alive, to list just two.
Various theories exist about the origin of these phrases, but experts believe most of them may come from Koshin-Shinko, a type of Japanese folklore based on Taoist-beliefs including the belief that we are all born with three bugs or worms in our stomachs, which require careful management.
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