Your Guide to 33 Useful Book Terms and Acronyms

Updated: Jul. 09, 2024

Does book slang have you scratching your head? If you have no idea what "TBR meaning" is all about, brush up on these fun terms and acronyms commonly used in Book World.

Every subculture has its own fun lingo, and the book community is no exception. If you’ve ever scrolled through BookTok or reviews for books on Goodreads, you’ve probably come across all kinds of literary slang, puns and acronyms that had you scratching your head and feeling out of the loop.

Readers often use specific terms as a shorthand—after all, less typing means getting to read more books—to talk about the books they’re reading, want to read or don’t plan on finishing. If you Google “TBR meaning” or “What does TBR mean,” for example, you might be surprised to find it’s used to describe books “to be read” and not, in fact, the first hit on Google: Tennessee Board of Regents!

That’s why we’ve created a handy guide that will help you understand the most useful book slang, as well as some made-up terms that may not be real—but really should be. So the next time you’re writing a review about the best books you’ve just read or your favorite romance novels, make sure to add the following to your vocab list. While at it, check out these book lover quotes that speak to your soul.

Reading terms

Book, Getty Images

Have you ever struggled to come up with a term that captured the exact feeling of something you want to say? That’s what this list is here for. These commonly used reading terms help define the universal reading experience, as well as explain some literary tropes that avid readers like you may recognize.

  • Binge-read: Arguably the healthiest of binges, binge-reading is the act of blasting through a good chunk of a single book or even multiple books in a short period of time. It’s especially fun and easy to binge-read short books.

  • Reading slump: When you lose interest in reading for a while and either avoid reading books altogether or can’t get into any new books you pick up. This is perfectly normal, especially after reading an especially riveting book—and then all other books seem to pale in comparison.

  • Book hangover: When your emotional and mental state is so greatly affected by a book, whether in a positive or negative way, that you need time to process it before moving on to another one. You’ll find this is very common after reading more serious reads like books about race relations in America or dystopian books.

  • Book haul: The act of showing off books you just bought or borrowed at the library.

  • Auto-buy author: A beloved author whose books you will always instantaneously pre-order or pick up as soon as possible.

  • Insta-love: A trope where characters instantly fall in love with each other—oftentimes without fully getting to know each other yet.

  • Spoiler: This is a disclaimer that will warn you if a book review will reveal something about the plot or ending that you may not want to know before you start reading it. Pro tip: You especially want to keep an eye out for spoiler alerts in reviews for mystery books!

  • Mary Sue: A character who is inexplicably and unrealistically perfect in every way.

  • Ship: A shortened version of “relationship,” this is when you support a romantic pairing between two characters, even if the author may not have intended it, and it’s all in your head.

  • Second lead syndrome: Commonly used in the Korean drama community, the second lead syndrome is when you support the secondary love interest, even though you suspect they won’t end up with the main character … or will they?

  • Shelfie: This is a pic of a bookshelf that shows off a book collection or a selfie with books in the background. It’s a fun way to see how BookTokkers organize their bookshelves!

  • Mood reader: A person who changes the book genres they read depending on their mood.

Bookish acronyms, Getty Images

Gone are the simple days when only “LOL” and “BRB” filled our AOL chats. Every year, there are more and more fun acronyms to express certain feelings or ideas. And while the following are technically bookish initialisms—acronyms are specifically abbreviations formed from the first letters of a longer term or phrase, which can be said as its own word (think “NASA” or “NATO”)—you’ll find yourself using all these in your literary circles before you know it.

  • TBR: To Be Read. These days, BookTokkers, Bookstagrammers and book reviewers alike use the term TBR, meaning good books to be read. When you can’t wait for an upcoming publication date for your favorite author—or you get a book recommendation from a trusty source—make sure to add it to your TBR list.

  • CR: Currently Reading. Once you start a new book, you can move it from your TBR list to your CR list. Many bookworms proudly display their CR book on their social media accounts.

  • DNF: Did Not Finish. The DNF meaning is a useful one, and you’ll see it come up a lot in online book reviews. Life is short, and you should dedicate your precious time to finishing books you actually enjoy. Don’t like a book or aren’t a fan of the subject matter? Add it to your DNF list and release yourself from the guilt.

  • MC: Main Character. No, your book club member isn’t referring to an emcee, aka master of ceremonies, when they’re talking about this kind of MC. In the book community, MC refers to the beloved protagonist of the book.

  • POV: Point of View. While this one may seem a bit more obvious, POV is often used in book reviews or book discussions to refer to the narrator of the story. This is especially handy if a book has chapters that switch between the perspectives of more than one character.

  • OTP: One True Pairing. You know that perfect fictional couple—whether it’s the original romantic pairing written by the author or one that fans conjured up—that makes you squeal with delight? That’s your OTP.

  • M/M or F/F: Male/Male or Female/Female. This shorthand is used to describe same-sex romantic pairings. And it isn’t just limited to LGBTQ+ books. The fiction world is expanding its representation of all different kinds of love.
  • FTB: Fade to Black. FTB is a fun acronym that’s getting more traction to describe scenes where the author suggests intimacy between love interests, but skips the explicit details—or even the steamy scene altogether. It’s akin to a tame PG-13 movie rather than one that’s rated R.

  • TW/CW: Trigger Warning/Content Warning. Typically used interchangeably, TW and CW are becoming more commonplace as we become more mindful of sensitive topics that may disturb some readers. You’ll see this heads-up about upsetting subject matter in the book review or a book itself, so readers can steer clear if they wish.

  • HEA: Happily Ever After. While the term “happy” is rather subjective, an HEA ending is when the main character achieves what they wanted, or when they’re emotionally satisfied at the end of the book. For example, a HEA romance novel may mean the OTP get married and have adorable babies.

  • HFN: Happy For Now. HFN is slightly different from HEA: It implies an optimistic outcome, but it’s more realistic than a sappy happy ending where all the conflicts are resolved and tied neatly with a bow. You’ll see HFN endings more often in the best book series to keep you coming back for more.

More great books for your TBR pile

Fun words to describe the reading experience, Getty Images

The following portmanteaus and book terms haven’t officially been adopted by the book community—yet. However, they’re words that describe universal reading experiences that all book lovers can relate to, and if readers can Google “TBR meaning,” we figure they’ll be open to these! After all, if Shakespeare made up words, why can’t we?

  • Anticippointment: The warring feelings of anticipation of a book’s exciting climax and disappointment that the book is going to end soon.

  • Book-option fatigue: The decision-fatigue you experience when facing a nearly endless option of book choices. With a long enough TBR list or a packed enough bookshelf, it can be hard to settle on what you want to read next. Check out these BookTok books that are actually worth the hype.

  • Bookspressions: The expressions you make while reading, sometimes mirroring the characters’ feelings. (Let’s be honest. You totally give a slanted grin along with the love interest and crook an eyebrow when the villain does.)

  • Litjock: Someone who is super enthusiastic about reading and makes it a big, wonderful part of their identity.

  • Coverfished: When you get tricked into reading a lower quality book by its beautiful and enticing book cover. You’ll typically add these to your DNF list.

  • Litultery: The act of committing adultery with your CR list, i.e. reading more than one book at a time. This is an especially apt term if you’re taking breaks from more challenging and highbrow classic books to indulge in an easy beach read.

  • Wazthawerd: Words or names that you don’t have a clue how to pronounce or define.

  • Scintisensational: A book that wakes you up to the cultures of everyday people, whether it be their home or ethnicity.

  • Tears Blur-turner: A sad book that has you barely making out the blurry words through your tears, but you can’t stop reading. These books can often be recognized by teardrop stains on their pages.

  • Serial reader: A lit lover with a big appetite for books who picks up a new story immediately after finishing a book. Forget downtime! Serial readers kill it when it comes to reading nonstop.

Now that you know the meaning of TBR and these other book terms, put these autobiographies on your TBR list.