Library Mouse

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A Library Mouse By Any Other Name

A Whimsical Treatise on Elanthian Idiomatic Expressions for Scholars and Book Lovers
By Isienaka, Chief Scholar of Atan Irith

During a recent visit to Ta'Illistim for a fascinating artifact retrieval expedition, I had the opportunity to discuss scholarly pursuits with several scholars representing multiple races and cultures of Elanthia. In one such casual discussion, I called myself a lifelong library mouse. This inadvertent use of an Erithian idiomatic expression in Common sparked a whole other conversation.

We passed the afternoon sharing tea and finding out what each of us calls scholars and book lovers. In Common, it appears the term "bookworm" is most frequently used and understood across all of Elanith's races, but several other terms exist. I found myself cheerfully diverted by this discussion and now that I have returned to Eloth-Ra, I felt it best to put quill to vellum and share these entertaining findings.

One area of interest is how frequently terms involved alliteration when translated into Common, when the original language term was rarely alliterative. I’ve thought on this, and I can come to no solid explanation. It is just perhaps a quirk, a coincidence, but I look forward to those more inclined toward etymological history to delve deeper.

Like most idiomatic expressions describing an individual, these terms can be compliment, insult, or mere statement of fact depending on who is delivering it. Most races tend toward a more neutral usage of the term, leaning to compliment. Some cultures, however, may trend stronger from one side to another, and of course, towns, villages, even individual families may have historically different usage and outlooks upon the expression in question. When known, I have included the variants and contextual intricacies of a term, but of course, my experience is scholarly. While it is based on several interviews and in-depth research, it cannot replace the lived experiences of those who have had the term applied to them or who have applied it to others.

In general, elves tended toward the most positive use of the term, half-krolvin the most negative, and humans the most varied across cultures. Based on my interviews, however, there were always "underground" groups seeking to change the general outlook of the term, especially in races and cultures who use the term in a negative light -- time and again it would crop up that those so labeled would take pride in it regardless of a speaker’s intent.


Due, perhaps, to their centuries of torture at the hands of the kiramon, it may come as no surprise that there is not a whimsical term for scholar among the aelotoi yet. Instead, they have merano and merana, loosely translated to "professor" and derived from the Aelotian words for teacher, both male and female respectively.

According to my sources, the term was first used sarcastically, perhaps even derisively for when one is enslaved, spending time in reading or scholarly pursuits can feel the height of hubris to many. Over the years, as those obsessed with these pursuits proved their worth, the term has tempered in its usage. Now, it is mostly a fond jab at those so immured in their passion that they seek to spread it to all who come in their line of sight. Indeed, I spent a cheerful hour with a self-proclaimed merana who, when asked if she wished a cup of tea, launched into a fifteen-minute lecture on the intricacies of wing veins before realizing what she was doing, stopping, and accepting my offer of tea.

Burghal Gnome

With a history intricately and controversially linked to the elves, burghal gnomes of the Winedotter line have a fraught relationship with scholarship. With service touted as their primary goal and focus initially, any Winedotter seeking a different outlet was often looked up with suspicion. Thus, scholarship was reduced to late night sneakings, and hence the term ivsenra translates to "ink stealer," which both conveys a literal function and is tied to the primary Elven term for a bookworm. In this more enlightened age, the term has remained but its usage is more moderate or non-committal than insult. I heard tell of a secret society of Nalfein and Winedotter scholars that call themselves The Ink and Daggers Society, dedicated to common pursuits. No one knew more of it, or if they did, they were not forthcoming.

Other bloodlines tend to use the term achlat, which roughly translates to "bookworm." Given the close ties to the human empire, it is of little surprise this would be the case. The burghal gnomish bookworm is most often a neutral term, leaning toward the negative since burying one's head in a book may take away from building the intricate machinery most are known for, at least that is how it was explained to me. Of course, my source was an achlat himself and quite proud of it, but it was obvious he had been the recipient of negative interactions in the past given his non-mechanical inclinations, and he may not be indicative of the whole.

Dark Elven

The Dhe’nar

Education and scholarship, including unhealthy addictions to reading, are prized attributes among the Dhe'nar, as knowledge is power, and most Dhe'nar, like their Faendryl counterparts, seem drawn to power. Among the Dhe'nar, the term to describe these knowledge seekers is laq'ba'enth or "scrolleater."

The Faendryl

As mentioned above, the Faendryl are drawn to, and respect, knowledge. Therefore, one who dedicates themselves obsessively to studying books, tomes, and other lore, but does not couple that with an interest in field-testing their own research, is often called arsilith or "parchment devourer."

However, it does not stop there with the Faendryl. While arsilith is generally used with positivity, an obsessive scholar who also takes that knowledge out into the field and tests their own findings will be called vathilith or "parchment demon." To be vathilith is a great honor among Faendryl.

Its roots deep in dark elf history, there is a third term, this for one who loves books and reading, but solely for frivolous pursuits. To only read for recreational pleasure and not join in the racial thirst for increased knowledge opens a dark elf, whether Faendryl or Dhe'nar, to be derisively called a laca'resk or "scroll flea."


Dwarven orthography began with runes etched in stone; it is therefore unsurprising that their expressions revolve around this history. Dating back to Kalaza, the dwarven clans have several idiomatic expressions regarding scholarship, all originating with the base term for "rune."

There are four terms, khaznek, khavereg, khatruum, and kharag, translating into Common as "rune eater," "rune miner," "rune collector," and "rune carver." While at one point, the phrases in Dwarven were an exact match for the translation they supply in Common, the evolution of language and the natural inclination toward the taciturn has truncated the terms, so while the genesis of khaznek is in the Dwarven terms of "rune" and "eater," it now bears only minimal resemblance to the modern terms.

Khaznek is used for a voracious reader, so is closest to the general bookworm expression. The other three revolve more around scholarship, with khavereg being a researcher, khatruum a librarian, and kharag a scribe. It is important to note these are nicknames for those roles and not the formal terms. Overall, khaznek is most commonly used, with the others being rare to uncommon.


The elven cultures almost universally consider a bookworm in a positive light, and their term, ataelel or "ink drinker," holds its origins in the lighthearted stereotype of a scholar so immersed in studies that they drink from their ink bottle rather than their actual potable beverage. With generations of contact with the human empire, it isn’t unusual for elves to use bookworm in Common instead of ataelel. One typically finds, however, among self-described elite scholars, the elven term is preferred.


Erithi prize studying, reading, and scholarship, have a fairly good sense of humor, and are not above making fun of ourselves as is evident with the history of our idiomatic expression for a bookworm. In Erithi, we call an obsessive scholar or reader a vala'toka or "library mouse."

The term originated several hundred years ago when a scholar was deep in the throes of research. Not wishing to leave the library when it closed for the evening, the scholar created a hidden bolthole deep within the stacks. At first, he only hid there from time to time, just to stay an hour or two later. Eventually, however, as his studies took him deeper and he came closer to the answers he was seeking, he found leaving the library for even the most basic of reasons to be unacceptable. He would sneak out and grab extra scrolls and tomes then curl up in his makeshift room to study uninterrupted. That is, until his husband grew worried and alerted officials.

A search ensued, until at last the bolthole was discovered. There sat our dear scholar, his ataniki wrinkled and unkempt, surrounded by gradually pilfered parchments and scrolls, with a few lost articles of clothing and some appropriated cushions forming a makeshift bed. The man’s poor, beleaguered husband was so exasperated, he cried out, "What, you hate doing the dishes so much, you just come here and hide away like a little...a little...library mouse?!"

The scholar looked up and is reported to have said, "My darling, is it time for dinner already?" with no knowledge that several days had passed. Librarians and scholars shared that story far and wide, and with great mirth, the terms for mouse and library were twisted and truncated into the term used today, vala'toka. It is almost always used with great affection, and while the story may be mere legend, or at the least, an exaggerated truth, most erithi scholars love it and will cheerfully defend its veracity and embrace their inner library mouse.

Forest Gnome

Across the years, it has been easy for many other scholars to discount the forest gnomes, seeing them as a bit wild, more a part of the forest than a part of their learned circles. Fortunately, this inaccurate perception is mostly eradicated in all but the most stubborn individuals, as our forest gnome brethren are just as inclined to scholarly pursuits as any.

The Angstholm are credited with coining their term, latevlot or "vellum vole." An avid reader was said to tear through books like a pesky vole through newly planted crops. With the exception of the Felcour, most forest gnomes use the term with neutrality trending toward positivity; with their inclination toward battle and disdain of most else, a Felcour latevlot is held in derision by most of their fellows.


Originating with the Issimir Ogre clan, a tsalalir is equated to a "reading horse." Legend has it, it was derived from a similar phrase: calling a hardworking person a "work horse." Very little judgment is bestowed with the term; it’s more a neutral statement of fact -- the tsalalir is like a strong work horse, but for the books and tomes instead of physical labor. The term is found in all the clans, but is most prevalent with its originators, and even there, it isn’t exceedingly common.


Half-elves pose an interesting case study; depending on their primary influence (elf or human), they may choose to use either bookworm or ataelel. However, there is a darker reference in Common, book flea. While it is similar in translation to the Dark Elven scroll flea, etymologically and culturally speaking, it appears to have developed separately. The origination and initial usage of book flea was overwhelmingly derogatory and bespoke of attempts to discourage half-elves from seeking knowledge and remind them of their "lesser" status.

Today, the term has fallen out of use by humans and elves, and anyone using it often receives extreme censure from their peers. A small, but vocal, contingent of half-elves will often call themselves book fleas in an attempt to make it a more positive and light-hearted term, but overall, this is met with resistance.

During my conversations, I did hear of another faction who is attempting to create their own, unique to half-elves, term, quillite, meaning "follower of the quill." Many were quite enamored with this term, and I would suspect you’ll see a surge in its popularity, even among non-half-elves.


Mostly used derisively within the Gob'tak and Rafi'kaes klinasts, the Krolgeh equivalent to bookworm is cz’arwvek. The term is actually fairly rare, based on my research, and it is uncommon to see it used in any way but a negative light. The roots appear to be based in the terms for "bringer of" and "intelligence," but the added "vek" indicates an additional root that I could not uncover. However, when asked to provide a Common translation, the half-krolvin state it means "read-rat," so "vek" may have its roots in a now-forgotten term for rodent.

Like other races who use their terms negatively, there is a solid core of self-named cz’arwvek who wear the name proudly and revel in their obsessive tendencies towards literature and scholarship.


While most halfling cultures either use bookworm or eschew it all together, the Paradis halflings call their studious brethren fainfhel, "binding bug." This is technically more accurate than the usage of bookworm, since there are actually binding bugs that may “worm” into tomes and cause some damage or be a nuisance, whereas there are no true worms that inhabit books.

The Paradis appreciate their scholars and readers, and the usage of fainfhel is generally positive, and teasing, if it occurs, is typically good-natured.


Bookworm is the most widespread and accepted term across Elanthia, with all races using it in Common frequently. This ubiquity, however, has unfortunately diluted any hope of determining the origin. It is known, of course, that there are larvae and other crawling critters that can wreak havoc on written materials and colloquially these are termed bookworms regardless of entomological origin. Overall, it is believed the term came to be used to describe people who "bore" into books metaphorically the same way a "bookworm" is said to do so literally.

There is wide variance on the usage of the term within human cultures, from insulting jeer to fond nickname. One scholar shared a personal story from her youth. With her nose always in a book, she was often mocked, but after taking to the ocean to participate in local swimming races, her fellow water-fiends protected her against the teasing of others, calling her their bookworm, and challenging any who dared make fun. By the time she left for university, one could frequently hear the cheers of "Go, Bookworm!" from the beaches, and they always found a dry nook to protect the books and scrolls she would bring with her. A defining moment for all, taking what could have been negative and turning it to the positive.

Within the Tehir culture, I am told there is a term that loosely translates into "tome tunneler," but none I asked could verify, nor could they provide the Tehiri term. It was said there is a specific sort of desert snake, a tunneler, that bores deep into the ground to get away from the heat of the day, and the nickname was meant to represent a studious Tehir who hides themselves away to read. Fascinating though the idea is, it was not able to be corroborated.


An atala yr'cavel, "cloud dancer," is a sylvan bookworm, originating from the phrase "leaving the trees to dance in the clouds" attributed to the Kytawa D’ahranal. The usage spans all D’ahranal, but it is most commonly used by those of the Kytawa and the Lassaran D’ahranal, and almost overwhelmingly positively and with great fondness.

A small subset of self-proclaimed atala yr'cavel adopted a lapis lazuli as their gem, hearkening back, somewhat loosely, to sylvan symbolism and gemology. They carry a round disk of gold-veined lapis lazui etched with a swirl of tiny owl feathers on one side and their personally chosen totem animal on the other.

See Also