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e-read

verb [intransitive/transitive]

to read electronic books and documents by using a portable device

e-reader

noun [countable]

    1. a portable device on which you can read electronic books and documents
    2. a person who reads electronic books and documents by using a portable device

'I would like to keep a log about my trip, download and sort pictures from my camera, and e-read during the trip. Any suggestions what computer equipment best covers these options?'

All Things Digital 20th November 2012

'During 2012, a raft of new e-readers and tablets made their appearance, all promising to be the acme of the portable library.'

The Register 6th December 2012

'I did find articles saying that even avid e-readers prefer real books for their young children, although the primary reason for this may be that few people want their expensive Nook or Kindle … to be kicked down the stairs by a four-year-old on a sugar high.'

Allison's Book Bag (blog) 7th November 2012

Even if you don't have one yourself, it's likely that most people reading this article will at least know someone who owns and enjoys using an e-book reader. In the space of about two years, this portable device allowing users to download and read books in electronic form has made the leap from novel gift idea to run-of-the-mill kit – so much so that the process of using one now has its very own linguistic embodiment in the form of a new verb: to e-read.

with handy features like modifiable print size and … the capacity to store the equivalent of many books on one, light-weight, hand-held device, it's not difficult to see why e-readers have become so popular

Although in principle any device that can display text on a screen can be used to read books electronically, the expression e-book reader or now, much more commonly, e-reader, is reserved for a specially designed device which optimizes battery life, portability and screen clarity for the purposes of reading. Looking quite similar to a tablet computer, an e-reader has a screen which can be refreshed regularly and very quickly, and displays text using a technology which is designed to mimic the appearance of ordinary ink on paper, often referred to as electronic ink/paper. Though usually only black/grey on white, one of the main advantages of e-reader text is its clarity, even in bright sunlight. With handy features like modifiable print size and, most importantly, the capacity to store the equivalent of many books on one, light-weight, hand-held device, it's not difficult to see why e-readers have become so popular. Gradually, it seems, more and more people are becoming convinced that their advantages outweigh the aesthetic and tactile attraction of real, paper books, and a linguistic by-product of this trend is the use of e-read as a verb, both transitively (e.g. He's e-reading that new novel by J. K. Rowling.) and intransitively, as illustrated in the citation above.

Following the model of the word read, which in addition to its verb use occurs as a noun to refer to a book that is really enjoyable/exciting, etc (e.g. His latest novel was a really good read.), the verb e-read has a nominal counterpart, with evidence for examples such as Best e-reads for November/in 2010/on green living …). The form e-reader, though primarily a reference to the device itself, is also sometimes now used to describe a person who regularly reads electronic books.

Background – e-read

The use of e-read as a verb has emerged in the last year or so, and is of course a by-product of popular use of the noun e-reader, a term which itself only began to appear regularly a couple of years earlier and was galvanized considerably by the launch of the Kindle e-book reader by online retailer Amazon in 2007.

Use of the verb e-read as a derivation from the noun e-reader could be considered a new example of a word formation process linguists refer to as back formation, in which a shorter word is formed from a longer word that already exists in the language. This occurs by deletion of a kind of 'imagined' affix, inspired by observing examples where conventional word formation has taken place. So, for instance, an established example of back formation is the verb edit, which was derived from the noun editor by analogy with act and actor, even though in the latter case, the verb act existed before the noun actor.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

For teachers

Would you like to use this BuzzWord article in class? Visit onestopenglish.com for tips and suggestions on how to do just that! This downloadable pdf contains a student worksheet which includes reading activities, vocabulary-building exercises, and a focus on phrasal verbs and word formation.

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This article was first published on 5th March 2013.

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