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literature

[lit-er-uh-cher, -choo r, li-truh-] /ˈlɪt ər ə tʃər, -ˌtʃʊər, ˈlɪ trə-/
noun
1.
writings in which expression and form, in connection with ideas of permanent and universal interest, are characteristic or essential features, as poetry, novels, history, biography, and essays.
2.
the entire body of writings of a specific language, period, people, etc.:
the literature of England.
3.
the writings dealing with a particular subject:
the literature of ornithology.
4.
the profession of a writer or author.
5.
literary work or production.
6.
any kind of printed material, as circulars, leaflets, or handbills:
literature describing company products.
7.
Archaic. polite learning; literary culture; appreciation of letters and books.
Origin
late Middle English
1375-1425
1375-1425; late Middle English litterature < Latin litterātūra grammar. See literate, -ure
Related forms
preliterature, noun
Synonyms
1. Literature, belles-lettres, letters refer to artistic writings worthy of being remembered. In the broadest sense, literature includes any type of writings on any subject: the literature of medicine; usually, however, it means the body of artistic writings of a country or period that are characterized by beauty of expression and form and by universality of intellectual and emotional appeal: English literature of the 16th century. Belles-lettres is a more specific term for writings of a light, elegant, or excessively refined character: His talent is not for scholarship but for belles-lettres. Letters (rare today outside of certain fixed phrases) refers to literature as a domain of study or creation: a man of letters.
Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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British Dictionary definitions for literatures

literature

/ˈlɪtərɪtʃə; ˈlɪtrɪ-/
noun
1.
written material such as poetry, novels, essays, etc, esp works of imagination characterized by excellence of style and expression and by themes of general or enduring interest
2.
the body of written work of a particular culture or people: Scandinavian literature
3.
written or printed matter of a particular type or on a particular subject: scientific literature, the literature of the violin
4.
printed material giving a particular type of information: sales literature
5.
the art or profession of a writer
6.
(obsolete) learning
Word Origin
C14: from Latin litterātūra writing; see letter
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for literatures

literature

n.

late 14c., from Latin literatura/litteratura "learning, a writing, grammar," originally "writing formed with letters," from litera/littera "letter" (see letter (n.1)). Originally "book learning" (it replaced Old English boccræft), the meaning "literary production or work" is first attested 1779 in Johnson's "Lives of the English Poets" (he didn't include this definition in his dictionary, however); that of "body of writings from a period or people" is first recorded 1812.

Great literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree. [Ezra Pound, "ABC of Reading"]
Meaning "the whole of the writing on a particular subject" is from 1860; sense of "printed matter generally" is from 1895. The Latin word also is the source of Spanish literatura, Italian letteratura, German Literatur.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Encyclopedia Article for literatures

literature

a body of written works. The name has traditionally been applied to those imaginative works of poetry and prose distinguished by the intentions of their authors and the perceived aesthetic excellence of their execution. Literature may be classified according to a variety of systems, including language, national origin, historical period, genre, and subject matter.

Learn more about literature with a free trial on Britannica.com
Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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