Definition: Essay

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Etymology 1

Since late sixteenth century, borrowed from Middle French essay, essai (essay), meaning coined by Montaigne in the same time, from the same words in earlier meanings "experiment, assay, attempt," from Old French essay, essai, assay, assai, from Latin exagium (weight, weighing, testing on the balance), from exigere + -ium.


essay (plural essays)

  1. A written composition of moderate length, exploring a particular issue or subject.
  2. A proposed design for a postage stamp or a banknote.

Derived terms

  • essay question
  • miniessay
  • photo essay

Related terms

  • assay
  • essayist
  • essayistic

Etymology 2

From Middle French essayer, essaier, from Old French essaiier, essayer, essaier, assaiier, assayer, assaier, from essay, essai, assay, assai (attempt, assay, experiment) as above.


essay (third-person singular simple present essays, present participle essaying, simple past and past participle essayed)

  1. To move forth, as into battle.


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