Printable Version
Pronunciation: i-pi-sêl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A formal or elegant letter; a literary piece in the form of a letter. 2. (Capitalized: Epistle) A book in the New Testament in the form of a letter from the apostles, as distinguished from the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Notes: Epistle is a lovelier word than letter with a bit of antique connotation, so it is reserved for formal, elegant or, out of context, humorous writing. The adjective for this noun is epistolary. An excellent letter-writer may be called an epistolarian or an epistolist. A rarely used verb, epistolize "to write a letter", is also available.

In Play: The regular sense of this word (No. 1 above), we may read things like this: "The opinions expressed in the well-written epistles from angry activists were surprisingly forthright and revealing." In the religious second sense of today's Good Word, it may be used thus: "Of the 23 epistles in the New Testament, the apostle Paul wrote 13."

Word History: English found this word in the usual place, Old French epistle, which later on became epistre, leading to Modern French épître, with the usual circumflex over the vowel preceding a lost S. French inherited its word from Latin epistula "a letter" which had borrowed it from Greek epistole "message, order, commission", the noun from epistellein "to send a message; to command", containing epi "on, upon, to" + stellein "to prepare, equip; send". The Greek verb descended from PIE stel-yo-/stol-yo- "send", a suffixed form of root stel-/stol- "to put, stand, place standing". The remnants of this PIE word may be seen in Greek stellein "to prepare, equip; dispatch", Armenian stełc-anem "to prepare, create", Albanian shtiell "to wind up, reel up, collect", English stall, and German stellen "to put, place, stand".

Dr. Goodword,

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