Harvey Mudd College

Humanities 2, section 2: 
The Book in Western Culture 
Spring 2003

A Beginning Vocabulary for Discussing Book Structure

The definitions below draw on the following sources:

Binding: The outside cover of a book. The binding helps hold the book together and protects its pages.

Binder's boards: "The wood, pasted paper, single- or multiple-ply sheets, or other base stock, for the covers of any bound or cased book, i.e., any book in hard covers. Boards, in one form or another, have been used to cover and thereby protect the leaves of codices since the earliest times of bookbinding." (Roberts and Etherington)

Boss, bosses: Metal decorations on the exterior of a book that protect a binding (usually leather) from being scratched or marred.

Bound: "In a bound book, whatever the material which is to cover the sides and spine, the folded sections of printed matter are sewn on to horizontal cords (usually four or five), the free ends of which are then drawn through holes in the boards and firmly attached. The result is that leaves and binding become a structural entity before the covering material is glued or pasted on to the boards (cf. cased)." (Carter 48)

Broadside: An unbound, unfolded sheet printed on only one side.

Cased: "In a cased book the boards and their covering material are made up separately, in quantity. The stitched quires [or gatherings], held together by a strip of canvas (called mull) glued on to their backs, are inserted into the ready-made case by machinery. They are attached by gluing the overlaps of the mull--sometimes also tapes or threads--to the inner edges of the boards, over which the endpapers are then pasted down." (Carter 55) Most hardcover books produced in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have cased bindings.

Edges: The exposed parts of the leaves; that is, the three sides of a book's gatherings that are not stitched or otherwise bound.

Edition-binding: Mass-produced bindings, usually cased, made up for the publisher or printer of a book.

Endpapers: "The units of two or more leaves placed in the front and back of a book between its covers and text block." (Roberts and Etherington) The pastedown endpaper is the leaf pasted to the inside cover of the binding; the free-endpaper is the leaf that is turnable.

Fly-leaves: Blank leaves (other than the endpapers) at the front or back of a book.

Font: Loosely, the style of a typeface. More precisely, a "complete assortment of types of one size and design, with all that is necessary for printing in that design." (Manser 48)

Format: Refers to the general shape and size of a book. "In bibliographic contexts it is used to indicate the size of a volume in terms of the number of times the original printed sheet has been folded to form its constituent leaves" (Carter 100). "When a sheet of paper of Medium or larger size is folded in two leaves, like most newspapers, it is called a folio; when folded in four leaves, it is named a quarto or 4to; when folded in eight leaves, an octavo or 8vo; in twelve leaves, a duodecimo or 12mo; in sixteen leaves, sextodecimo or 16mo; in eighteen leaves, octodecimo or 18mo; in twenty-four leaves, vicesimo-quarto, or 24mo, and so on. The Latin names beyond duodecimo are seldom used" (MacKellar 149).

Gathering: A group of leaves created by folding the printed sheet. A gathering might have an associated signature.

Hinge: The place where the front or back cover of a book joins the text block. The hinge allows the book to open.

Leaf, leaves: When sheets are folded, they form leaves. A leaf contains two pages: the recto and the verso.

Manuscript: A hand-written document or book.

Perfect binding: Creating a book without stitching or stapling the leaves. Sometimes called an adhesive binding. Modern paperback books are perfect bound.

Raised bands: In bound books, ridges on the spine caused by the protrusion of the cord from the bound text block.

Recto: In European custom, the "front" side of the leaf when reading the text sequentially.

Sheet: A large sheet of paper that is printed on, then folded to form leaves.

Signature: A sequential letter, numeral, or mark on a page that allows the binder to assemble the folded gatherings for sewing.

Spine: The part of the book that covers the sewn or glued edge of the text block.

Text block: "The body of a book, consisting of the leaves, or sections, making up the unit to be bound, rebound, or restored." (Roberts and Etherington)

Verso: In European custom, the "back" side of the leaf when reading the text sequentially.

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This page maintained by Jeff Groves; last updated December 11, 2002.