Wondrous Words Wednesday: Keith Miller

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme where we share new (to us) and interesting (to us, again) words we encountered in our readings. See this week round-up at BermudaOnion’s blog!

My word for this week (just one) comes from The Book on Fire by Keith Miller. Actually, the book is full of interesting words, but I did not have a reading notebook with me… so I’ll only share the one and only word that really made an impression. I hope you will not be grossed out!


Call me Balthazar. Call me silverfish, sweet dreams, the end of the rainbow. Call me dust devil, night-owl, will-o-the-wisp. Call me man in the moon. But call me Balthazar, and place a book in my hands.

Silverfish: n. a silvery bristletail (insect) that lives in buildings, feeding on starchy materials.

Awful, right? But don’t worry, I won’t share an image with you, this time. But I wanted to share my reaction.

When I read the sentence (and that is the very beginning of the book), I immediately thought of the insect. I didn’t know the English word, but it’s the exact translation of its Italian and Portuguese names. I am unfortunate enough to know: it’s a pest we’ve had here at home, due to some plumbing issue, and because they are so difficult to get rid of, we still get the odd one now and then. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that their numbers do not rise with the warm weather!

Back to the word. It didn’t sound right: why would someone ask to be called by such a disgusting name? The only sense I could see was that he was listing things that are difficult/impossible to catch. That did make sense, because the narrator is a thief.

Unfortunately, when I checked online, I discovered another way that the word made sense. Apparently, silverfish love (old) books. So that it may be the fittest description for a book thief and a bibliomaniac.

Now I have to keep my fingers crossed that the ones roaming here never do find our books…


(All definitions are taken from the Concise Oxford English Dictionary © 2008 via WordReference.com unless otherwise stated.)


9 comments on “Wondrous Words Wednesday: Keith Miller

  1. I know silverfish as old library pests. I think modern libraries have learned to control them but I worked in a library back in high school and college and it was always a problem. Perhaps one of your readers who works in a library can help with that. I’ll check back later to see. Interesting post this week. Hope you’re enjoying the book.

  2. I guess most people have heard of silverfish before, but I didn’t know how they were called (in any language) until I had to deal with them. Now I’m learning all sorts of things about them. But if there is anyone out there who knows of a way to keep them away from our books, please share! I’d be glad to know (and very grateful)!

  3. I’ve heard of silverfish. They like to get in dry foods like flour, and paper. Luckily, it’s too hot and humid where I live for them. I remember in Ohio years ago I borrowed a spice bottle from a neighbor and when I opened it, there were silverfish in it. GROSS!!!
    Here’s My WWW

  4. Awful. I hate both. I can get rid of many other insects on my own, but with spiders and silverfish I’ll just shriek and cry for help 🙂

Ditelo con parole vostre/Let your words be heard

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