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Pronounced /kɒləˈfəʊnɪən/Help with pronunciation

Colophon, a weird-enough word in its own right, is the name for the inscription at the end of a book that gives facts about its publication or design — hence the old saying “from title page to colophon”, from beginning to end. These days the data is more frequently on the title page and its reverse and the word is often used instead for a publisher’s emblem or imprint on the spine or title page.

The adjective colophonian, which might seem to be connected, has an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary, but only to say that its appearance in some dictionaries of the late nineteenth century to refer to a publisher’s colophon was actually an error based on a misreading of a book of 1678. The word was actually Colophonian (with a capital C), which refers to an inhabitant of Colophon, a town in Lydia that is part of modern Turkey.

However, colophonian might still come in useful — there isn’t a word in the language that means “relating to a colophon” (even though there is the, admittedly extremely rare, colophonize, to supply a book with a colophon), and colophonian is as good a candidate as any.

Colophon and its relatives come ultimately from a Greek word meaning a finishing touch or summit. None is to be confused with colophony, a pine resin which is named after ancient Colophon.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 14 Dec. 2002

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-col1.htm
Last modified: 14 December 2002.