Of paperbacks and hardcovers -- why?

Of paperbacks and hardcovers -- why?
Source: Reusableart.com

I was just leaving a note for a friend on a LinkedIn post when I added a comment that I recognized his paperback copy of Strunk and White (as we word mavens call the classic book by those two, "The Elements of Style").

I wrote that I had two paperback copies of the book and wore them out. Then I bought myself a hardcover copy (which is still within reach as I write this).

Then it struck me that I always refer to my books that way -- paperbacks and hardcovers, They're never papercovers and hardbacks, at least not to me. I had to make sure I could type the previous sentence.

I've heard some people refer to paperback and hardback books, and some to softcover and hardcover... come to think of it, that second one is usually the kind of people who talk about "editions" rather than books.

I wonder whether it's like pop. soda, and coke -- another regional expression that varies around the country and the world.

I still have to tell people I don't know well that if I say yes to a soda, I'll expect ice cream. I've had a bottle of pop already today, and I had to remind myself to refer to it as Pepsi when I bought it. I grew up being asked "Want a coke?" followed by "What kind?" (The answer was always yes.) The answer to "What kind?" was sometimes root beer, and sometimes ginger ale!

So  if paperbacks and hardcovers are in for some similar linguistic changes, I think I'll be glad that only in rare cases do I have the same book in each form.

Margaret Serious has a page on Facebook.

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Filed under: Expressions


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  • It's physically difficult to have a hardback book, unless there are hinges between the covers and back, and also unless it is a ring binder.

    When I was involved in book manufacturing (note that this is the proper term, not publishing), the debate was whether the publisher wanted the title embossed on the spine or also on the front hard cover. Also, as the books became increasingly more disposable, whether they should be hardcover or paperback, but didn't charge any less for the paperbacks. However, except for some archival customers, that debate is now moot.

  • In reply to jack:

    Thank you for valuable terminology, Jack. I have some older paperbacks that cost less than a newspaper would now and some hardcovers that cost less than my more recent paperback purchases. My dad used to say that his copy of the complete Sherlock Holmes stories was the best five dollars he ever spent... but he spent much more than that on a partial copy for me. They're both hardcover, and both books are in the next room. It's a contemplative sort of day.

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