Word Origin & History
mid-12c., "graphic symbol, written character," from O.Fr. lettre, from L. littera (also litera) "letter of the alphabet," of uncertain origin, perhaps from Gk. diphthera "tablet," with change of d- to l- as in lachrymose
. In this sense it replaced O.E. bocstæf,
lit. "book staff" (cf. Ger. Buchstabe "letter, character," from O.H.G. buohstab, from P.Gmc. *bok-staba-m). The pl. litteræ in L. meant "epistle, written documents, literature," a sense first attested early 13c. in M.E., replacing O.E. ærendgewrit, lit. "errand-writing." School letter in sports, first awarded by U. of Chicago football coach Amos Alonzo Stagg.