Word Count

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Word Tasting Note: "Bookstore" vs. "Bookshop"

We welcome back James Harbeck for another installment of his "Word Tasting Notes." Here he considers the subtle distinction between a "bookstore" and a "bookshop."

Most ordinary kinds of stores and shops (e.g., grocery stores, auto body shops) do not have the dignity of a one-word designation. Purveyors of books have not one but two. Of course, that is a privilege of being a favoured haunt of those who plant, grow, and harvest words — the lexiculturists, the word gardeners and the wordyard owners, the noun brewers and verb distillers.

But while having two words is a luxury, it is not absolutely redundant. Just as two bottles of wines from neighbouring vineyards or different years of the same vineyard are different, so are two synonyms.

So... What is the difference between a bookstore and a bookshop?

Actually, the better question is, What is the difference between bookstore and bookshop?

The first difference is of course the shape and sound. The book is the same in both, a staple word in English; shop on the page is more angular than store, and so it matches book more forthrightly. Store has a sound as of a hobbyist's rocket going off: small hiss, éclat, then a fading roar. Shop is more like a sliding door, for instance on the starship Enterprise: a rich hiss and then a stop.

But words are known by the company they keep, and these two words — store and shop — keep different company.

We see store more with ordinary commercial establishments: grocery store, department store, convenience store, hardware store, general store, liquor store, corner store, quartermaster store; it has a utilitarian tone and an image of massing set by the verb store, and you think of shelves laden with dry goods in storage (and then there's cold storage), and you know — or don't know — what's in store.

On the other hand, shop has different aspects. It can be a machine shop or auto body shop, or it can be one of those great old staple focused establishments: butcher shop, barber shop, flower shop. That air of the old fashioned results in its getting the faux-archaic spelling in places such as chocolate shoppe and antique shoppe. Higher-toned establishments like it; a place like Body Shop is not a discount store. It seems to encourage spending; after all, who doesn't like shopping? (Obviously a thrift shop is a bit of an exception.) While a store is a place you go to get stuff, a shop can be a place to go to be in and interact — definitely true of a coffee shop. (It is a coincidence, but a nice one, that it has an old homophone in scop, an Old English storyteller, poet or minstrel.)

Would you like to make a guess as to which of these two comes from old Germanic roots and which from Latin? Newer loans tend to be more precise and less value-toned, while words that have grown up with the language tend to have richer meanings and associations and more nuances of use. So it should not be so surprising that on the one hand we have a clipped-down mutation from Latin instaurare “restore” and on the other we have a word that in Old English meant about the same thing but was written sceoppa.

So, faced with a word on one side that smacks of tore and star and perhaps Boxster, and one on the other side that could make you think of butcher and chop and make you see books hop, but given those associations, which do you prefer?


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James Harbeck is an editor by day, a designer by night, and a writer by Jove! His love of wine tasting crossed with his love of language to spawn word tasting notes, which appear daily at his blog, Sesquiotica. Buy his just-released book of salacious verse on English usage, Songs of Love and Grammar, on Lulu.com. Click here to read more articles by James Harbeck.

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Comments from our users:

Wednesday July 25th 2012, 4:41 AM
Comment by: Monica Y. (Huntsville, AL)
Shop, definitely! It implies character, not volume. Favorite thing to do is visit a coffee shop, then book shop. It's just sad, though, that our choices of shops have dwindled as the big stores have moved in. I always prefer the shop to the store.
Wednesday July 25th 2012, 5:14 AM
Comment by: Victor G. (Vancouver Canada)
So true Monica. Ever since Chapters/Indigo came to Vancouver the independent operators have been struggling. Now they're shutting down one by one.
Wednesday July 25th 2012, 10:53 AM
Comment by: Rae (Titusville, FL)
When I hear the word, shop, I can see Ye Old Curiosity Shop and exciting, vintage kitsch in windows, on shelves, on the floorm including, of course cloth bound first editions. It smells a bit musty, and perhaps pepperminty. The proprietor has a Santa look about him. He is very kind and if you can't pay today you may pay tomorrow.

Store engenders visions of big box warehouses with heavily stocked shelves, military supply houses, and camp stores where you can pick up lighter fluid and bug spray. Germanic is good, but I'd never want to do without the sweetness of some of the softer words.
Wednesday July 25th 2012, 11:02 AM
Comment by: Orin Hargraves (CO)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
I think N Americans naturally call a lot of things stores, regardless of size or character, that Brits will always call shops because the use of 'store' to designate a retail merchandise outlet (as opposed to a supply of things for future use) is an Americanism; the OED's 1st quote (1731) is from the Pennsylvannia Gazette. That aside, 'shop' still seems to win in American English for small or specialized places. Big Box shop? Never!
Wednesday July 25th 2012, 9:41 PM
Comment by: Ferial E R (Woodbridge United Kingdom)
You are right Orin. Shop is cosy, friendly, familiar. Store is vast impersonal.

This despite book store flowing more easily off the tongue and therefore more useful to poets

I will always prefer shop though.

Ferial in England

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