You may recall I’ve been trying to come up with an acceptable term for the study or collecting of bookmarks. I’ve already suggested aestelology and philaestely, and the consensus from my poll is that the former is the favourite. I invited alternatives, and one suggestion was libellumprohibere, from two Latin words meaning ‘book’ and ‘to stop, keep or preserve’.
But I neglected to look further afield, having restricted my search to just one rare Anglo-Saxon word for an object pointing to words, an æstel; my oft-vaunted Europhile credentials were, for a start, sadly not in evidence. So let me remedy that now with some further thoughts.
The major Western European languages have a bewildering range of words for bookmarks, all surprisingly varied. First off is German, which offers us the term Lesemarke — literally a reading marker. (Other terms like Lesezeichen refer to so-called bookmarks used in computing.) Meanwhile, in the Balkans the Greeks use σελιδοδείκτη or selidodeikti, meaning a page marker. So far, reading- and page-marker are both not so far removed from the English term.
The Romance languages have competing solutions. Italy has segnalibro, which not unexpectedly means ‘bookmark’, from segnare ‘to indicate’ and libro ‘book’. French has signet, also translated as bookmark; it comes from Old French, the diminutive of signe. This last word — as well as meaning ‘sign’ in its various modern English contexts — also suggests something shown, indicated or marked. When we come to Spanish we have a number of alternatives: marca de página or marcapágina, marcalibro and marcador (de libros) — variously page marker, book marker and marker of books.
So here we have five national languages sharing a few common approaches: they all include a word meaning mark or indicate, and another for reading, book or page. Do any of these get me any closer to an suitably universal noun for the act of collecting or studying bookmarks? Or does the variety just confuse the issue?
Most scientific terms come from Classical Greek or Latin but, interestingly, those implying really serious study seem to lean towards Greek — think of geography (‘delineating the land’), geology (‘the study of the earth’), philosophy (‘the love of wisdom’) and so on. If Greek is indeed the epitome in authoritative terminology I’m now inclining towards selidodeiktology, ‘the study of page markers’ as an alternative to aestelology. It’s longer, granted, but perhaps size matters. Having also checked with a Demotic Greek speaker I’ve been told that the word is perfectly formed and entirely acceptable!
And now I sense that you are bristling because I’m displaying my Eurocentric bias. Should I be looking to Sanskrit, Japanese, Malian or Mayan sources of inspiration? Do Sumerian, Ancient Egyptian, Linear A or Ogham provide the mot juste? I’m sure you’ll let me know, if you know.
In the meantime, while you consider these vital issues, the Swiss company Mirage Bookmark provides a history of bookmarks, and its website also offers hours of browsing selected examples.