Handbooks and manuals

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Joe Farrell wrote in to ask:

Do you know whether the word "handbook" (Gk encheiridion, Lat (liber) manualis) can be found in any other ancient or medieval languages? And, if so, whether it is clearly a loan word or it simply arises spontaneously in different languages from a similar conceptual and material relationship between books and hands.

Enchiridion is a Late Latin term (derived from the Greek word ἐγχειρίδιον (enkheiridion)) referring to a small manual or handbook.  (Source)

From Ancient Greek ἐγχειρίδιον (enkheirídion), from ἐν (en, in) + χείρ (kheír, hand) + a neuter suffix. (Source)

For Sanskrit, Diana Shuheng Zhang knows the following analogous terms:

The easiest form, which is used in spoken Sanskrit even nowadays: hastapustikā ("hand-book", really literal "shǒucè 手冊" ["handbook"], as in Chinese).  One can also say hastaneyaṃ pustakam.

There's another expression: laghugrantha (lit., "easy-knot").

These are what I think of in Sanskrit according to how people name their little primer brochures or how people speak. However, I don't know whether there has been Sanskrit-Chinese or Graeco-Latin connections; the "hand-book" one seems cute and somewhat likely, but I wonder to what extent it is related to the Greek or Latin terms.

I know of no conclusive evidence for direct or even indirect connections between the Greek and Latin terms and Sanskrit, Chinese, or any other languages.  Perhaps Language Log readers may know of analogous expressions in other relevant languages such as Persian, Hebrew, Arabic, and so forth.


  1. Michael Watts said,

    March 2, 2020 @ 6:00 am

    ἐγχειρίδιον (enkheirídion), from ἐν (en, "in") + χείρ (kheír, "hand") + a neuter suffix

    Specifically, it's a diminutive suffix.

  2. cameron said,

    March 2, 2020 @ 6:12 am

    Modern Persian has dastnâme, but I suspect that's a recent calque from the English.

    The term "enchiridion" was used to refer to a well-known short book of Stoic teachings referred to as the Enchiridion of Epictetus. That title was something of a play on words. The word "enchiridion" meant "handy" or "ready-to-hand" – it didn't originally refer specifically to a book – and the title referred to the fact that it was a short, and hence easily portable, book, and also that it contained precepts or principles that one should keep ready-to-hand, as it were.

  3. Gary said,

    March 2, 2020 @ 7:17 am

    Before you can have a handbook, you needto have a book. So until the invention of the codex there was no way the handbook metaphor could have arisen in classical times.

  4. Frank L Chance said,

    March 2, 2020 @ 10:09 am

    Interesting to note that the literal "hand book" in Japanese, would be tehon 手本 has the meaning of "copybook," i.e. a source written or drawn by a teacher (or in later instances printed from the teacher's work) to serve as a model for students to copy in the process of learning to write (especially in a given calligraphic style) or paint/draw.

  5. Bruce Rusk said,

    March 2, 2020 @ 1:00 pm

    In Chinese bibliography there's a literal "foot book," zuben 足本, meaning a complete, unexpurgated and undamaged edition, but that comes from the other sense of zu as "sufficient."

  6. Scott P. said,

    March 2, 2020 @ 3:07 pm

    Before you can have a handbook, you needto have a book. So until the invention of the codex there was no way the handbook metaphor could have arisen in classical times.

    Books predate codices — scrolls, for example, are a different format for presenting a book.

  7. Rodger C said,

    March 3, 2020 @ 1:48 am

    I'd think Gary's point is that a scroll is awkward to hold in one hand. Not sure if the point is valid, though.

  8. Andy said,

    March 3, 2020 @ 5:04 am

    Hastapustikā, hastaneyaṃ pustakam, laghugrantha -with the exception of the dictionary at spokensanskrit.org, I didn't manage to find these terms in Monier Williams or elsewhere, except in their Hindi versions. Does someone know if these are definitely ancient forms, or just sanskritized Hindi? If they are very late, one could posit a calque of the English word for the first two.

    @Michael Watts 'Specifically, it's a diminutive suffix'. Actually it's not the diminutive suffix in this case, it's just an adjective-forming suffix (-idios -a -on). There are many such adjectives, and it would be pretty hard to argue that they have any diminutive force -although this specific word does seem more common as a neuter noun, so some post-classical Greeks may well have reinterpreted it as a diminutive!

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