Printable Version
Pronunciation: mi-siv Hear it!

Part of Speech:

Meaning: Letter, epistle, written communication.

Notes: : Should we ever need a more poetic word for letter, this would be it. It looks like the active adjective for miss, just as mission looks like the action noun that verb. But appearances can be deceiving. Though missive and mission are historically related, neither is related to miss. Missive is a lexical orphan.

In Play: This word is a more romantic standby for "letter": "The missive received by Hermione proved to be a love letter from Bill Encu." It may also be encountered in historical readings as an adjective meaning "projectile" or "sent": "Her missive dismissal of him cut Manley Guy to the heart."

Word History: Today's Good Word is the noun use of the adjective in the French phrase lettre missive "sent letter", which French inherited from Latin 'littera missiva' with the same meaning. Missiva is the feminine form of missivus, a word based on missus "sent", the past participle of mittere "to send". The same participle underlies mission, since missionaries are people who are sent abroad. Mittere is the Latin rendition of PIE meith-/moith- "to exchange", which also underlies Sanskrit methete "quarrels", Greek moitos "exchange", Latvian maiņa "exchange", Lithuanian mainai "exchange", Russian mest' "revenge", and Urdu maithun "marriage, wedding". (Now a missive note of gratitude to Eric Berntson, a long-time contributor, for yet another fascinating Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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