Sally M (sallymn) wrote in 1word1day,
Sally M

Sunday Word: Epistolary

epistolary [ih-pis-tl-er-ee ]
1 (of a literary work) in the form of letters.

2a of, relating to, or suitable to a letter

2b contained in or carried on by letters

3 a lectionary containing a body of liturgical epistles


The epistolary format of Semple’s book (piecing together emails, diary entries, memos, and the like) is better suited to unraveling the circumstances of her disappearance. (David Sims, Richard Linklater’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette Is a Gripping Mess, The Atlantic, 2019)

An autobiography in plaster, paint and physical objects, Strawberry Hill was a counterpoint to the 4,000 letters that made Walpole one of the sharpest correspondents of an epistolary age. (Dominic Green, One Man’s Gothic Fantasy, The Wall Street Journal, 2018)

And personally I find my epistolary faculties collapse at about 100° in the shade. (Robert Palmer, Letters from Mesopotamia)

My aunt had written her one of the odd, abrupt notes - very little longer than a Bank note - to which her epistolary efforts were usually limited. (Charles Dickens, David Copperfield)

Novels written in an epistolary format are often less dialogue-driven, with more emphasis on thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Instead of being in the action with the protagonist, most “scenes” are filtered through the character and presented as memories. (Jen Petro-Roy, Writing epistolary novels in the modern age, The Writer, 2019)


Epistolary was formed from the noun epistle, which refers to a composition written in the form of a letter to a particular person or group. In its original sense epistle refers to one of the 21 letters (such as those from the apostle Paul) found in the New Testament. Dating from the 13th century, epistle came to English via Anglo-French and Latin from the Greek noun epistolē, meaning 'message' or 'letter.' Epistolē, in turn, came from the verb epistellein, meaning 'to send' to or 'to send from.' Epistolary appeared in English four centuries after epistle and can be used to describe something related to or contained in a letter (as in 'epistolary greetings') or composed of letters (as in 'an epistolary novel'). (Merriam-Webster)

1650s, from French épistolaire, from Late Latin epistolarius 'of or belonging to letters,' from Latin epistola 'a letter, a message' (see epistle). In Middle English as a noun (early 15c.), 'book containing epistles read in the Mass,' from Medieval Latin epistolarium. (Online Etymology Dictionary)

Tags: adjective, biblical, e, french, latin, middle english

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