letter

{{11}}letter (n.1) c.1200, "graphic symbol, alphabetic sign, written character," from O.Fr. letre (10c., Mod.Fr. lettre) "character, letter; missive, note," in plural, "literature, writing, learning," from L. littera (also litera) "letter of the alphabet," of uncertain origin, perhaps via Etruscan from Gk. diphthera "tablet," with change of d- to l- as in LACHRYMOSE (Cf. lachrymose). In this sense it replaced O.E. bocstæf, lit. "book staff" (Cf. Ger. Buchstabe "letter, character," from O.H.G. buohstab, from P.Gmc. *bok-staba-m).
Latin littera also meant "a writing, document, record," and in plural litteræ "a letter, epistle," a sense first attested in English early 13c., replacing O.E. ærendgewrit, lit. "errand-writing." The Latin plural also meant "literature, books," and figuratively "learning, liberal education, schooling" (see LETTERS (Cf. letters)). School letter in sports, attested by 1908, were said to have been first awarded by University of Chicago football coach Amos Alonzo Stagg. Expression to the letter "precisely" is from 1520s (earlier as after the letter). Letter-perfect is from 1845, originally in theater jargon, in reference to an actor knowing the lines exactly. Letter-press, in reference to matter printed from relief surfaces, is from 1840.
{{12}}letter (n.2) "one who lets" in any sense, c.1400, agent noun from LET (Cf. let) (v.).
{{12}}letter (v.) "to write in letters," 1660s, from LETTER (Cf. letter) (n.1). Earlier it meant "to instruct" (mid-15c.). Related: LETTERED (Cf. Lettered); LETTERING (Cf. lettering).

Etymology dictionary. 2014.

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  • letter — let‧ter [ˈletə ǁ ər] noun [countable] 1. a written or printed message that is usually put in an envelope and sent by mail: • Please sign the letter and mail it back within two weeks. alloˈcation ˌletter also alˈlotment ˌletter FINANCE a letter… …   Financial and business terms

  • letter — let·ter n 1: a direct written statement addressed to an individual or organization; broadly: an official communication see also counterletter determination letter: a letter from an administrative agency (as the Internal Revenue Service) usu. in… …   Law dictionary

  • Letter — Let ter, n. [OE. lettre, F. lettre, OF. letre, fr. L. littera, litera, a letter; pl., an epistle, a writing, literature, fr. linere, litum, to besmear, to spread or rub over; because one of the earliest modes of writing was by graving the… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Letter — and similar can mean: *Letter (alphabet), a grapheme, part of an alphabet, abjad, abugida, or syllabary *Letter (message), correspondence, a written message *Letter (paper size), the letter size paper * Letters can also mean literature, as in… …   Wikipedia

  • letter — letter, epistle, missive, note, message, dispatch, report, memorandum are comparable when they mean a communication sent or transmitted as distinct from one conveyed directly from source to recipient (as by oral utterance). Letter is the ordinary …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • letter — letter1 [let′ər] n. [ME lettre < OFr < L littera, letter of the alphabet, (in pl.) a letter, epistle] 1. a written or printed symbol employed to represent a speech sound or sounds; character in an alphabet: in some languages, as English,… …   English World dictionary

  • letter — ► NOUN 1) a character representing one or more of the sounds used in speech; any of the symbols of an alphabet. 2) a written, typed, or printed communication, sent by post or messenger. 3) the precise terms of a statement or requirement. 4)… …   English terms dictionary

  • Letter — Sf erw. fach. (17. Jh.) Entlehnung. In Anlehnung an frz. lettre umgebildet aus älterem Litter, das in mittelhochdeutscher Zeit aus l. littera Buchstabe entlehnt ist (frz. lettre ist dessen lautgerechter Nachfolger). Die Herkunft des lateinischen… …   Etymologisches Wörterbuch der deutschen sprache

  • letter — [n1] symbol of an alphabet ABCs*, alphabet, cap, capital, character, majuscule, minuscule, rune, sign, small letter, type, uncial; concept 284 Ant. number letter [n2] written communication acknowledgment, answer, billet, dispatch, epistle, junk… …   New thesaurus

  • letter — According to the Private Express Statutes, a message directed to a specific person or an address and recorded in or on a tangible object. Also a shortened way to refer to letter size mail …   Glossary of postal terms

  • Letter — Let ter, n. [From {Let} to hinder.] One who retards or hinders. [Archaic.] [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

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