- a short literary composition on a particular theme or subject, usually in prose and generally analytic, speculative, or interpretative.
- anything resembling such a composition: a picture essay.
- an effort to perform or accomplish something; attempt.
- Philately. a design for a proposed stamp differing in any way from the design of the stamp as issued.
- Obsolete. a tentative effort; trial; assay.
verb (used with object)
- to try; attempt.
- to put to the test; make trial of.
noun (ˈɛseɪ, for senses 2, 3 also ɛˈseɪ)
- a short literary composition dealing with a subject analytically or speculatively
- an attempt or endeavour; effort
- a test or trial
verb (ɛˈseɪ) (tr)
- to attempt or endeavour; try
- to test or try out
1590s, “short non-fiction literary composition” (first attested in writings of Francis Bacon, probably in imitation of Montaigne), from Middle French essai “trial, attempt, essay,” from Late Latin exagium “a weighing, weight,” from Latin exigere “test,” from ex- “out” (see ) + agere (see ) apparently meaning here “to weigh.” The suggestion is of unpolished writing.
“to put to proof, test the mettle of,” late 15c., from Middle French essaier, from essai (see (n.)). This sense has mostly gone with the divergent spelling . Meaning “to attempt” is from 1640s. Related: Essayed; essaying.
A short piece of writing on one subject, usually presenting the author’s own views. Michel de, Francis (see also ), and Ralph Waldo are celebrated for their essays.