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
characters upon tablets smeared over or covered with wax. Pliny,
xiii. 11. See Liniment, and cf. Literal.]
1. A mark or character used as the
representative of a sound, or of an articulation of the human organs
of speech; a first element of written language.
And a superscription also was written over him in
letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew. Luke
2. A written or printed communication; a
message expressed in intelligible characters on something adapted to
conveyance, as paper, parchment, etc.; an epistle.
The style of letters ought to be free, easy,
and natural. Walsh.
3. A writing; an inscription.
None could expound what this letter
4. Verbal expression; literal statement or
meaning; exact signification or requirement.
We must observe the letter of the law, without
doing violence to the reason of the law and the intention of the
lawgiver. Jer. Taylor.
I broke the letter of it to keep the
5. (Print.) A single type; type,
collectively; a style of type.
Under these buildings . . . was the king's printing
house, and that famous letter so much esteemed.
6. pl. Learning; erudition; as, a man
7. pl. A letter; an epistle.
Dead letter, Drop letter,
etc. See under Dead, Drop, etc. --
Letter book, a book in which copies of letters
are kept. -- Letter box, a box for the
reception of letters to be mailed or delivered. --
Letter carrier, a person who carries letters; a
postman; specif., an officer of the post office who carries letters
to the persons to whom they are addressed, and collects letters to be
mailed. -- Letter cutter, one who engraves
letters or letter punches. -- Letter lock,
a lock that can not be opened when fastened, unless certain
movable lettered rings or disks forming a part of it are in such a
position (indicated by a particular combination of the letters) as to
permit the bolt to be withdrawn.
A strange lock that opens with AMEN.
Beau. & Fl.
-- Letter paper, paper for writing letters
on; especially, a size of paper intermediate between note paper and
foolscap. See Paper. -- Letter punch,
a steel punch with a letter engraved on the end, used in making
the matrices for type. -- Letters of
administration (Law), the instrument by which an
administrator or administratrix is authorized to administer the goods
and estate of a deceased person. -- Letter of
attorney, Letter of credit, etc. See
under Attorney, Credit, etc. -- Letter of
license, a paper by which creditors extend a debtor's
time for paying his debts. -- Letters close or
clause (Eng. Law.), letters or writs directed to
particular persons for particular purposes, and hence closed
or sealed on the outside; -- distinguished from letters
patent. Burrill. -- Letters of
orders (Eccl.), a document duly signed and
sealed, by which a bishop makes it known that he has regularly
ordained a certain person as priest, deacon, etc. --
Letters patent, overt, or
open (Eng. Law), a writing executed and
sealed, by which power and authority are granted to a person to do
some act, or enjoy some right; as, letters patent under the
seal of England. -- Letter-sheet envelope,
a stamped sheet of letter paper issued by the government,
prepared to be folded and sealed for transmission by mail without an
envelope. -- Letters testamentary
(Law), an instrument granted by the proper officer to an
executor after probate of a will, authorizing him to act as
executor. -- Letter writer.
(a) One who writes letters.
(b) A machine for copying letters.
(c) A book giving directions and forms for the
writing of letters.