[noun es-ey for 1, 2; es-ey, e-sey for 3–5; verb e-sey] /noun ˈɛs eɪ for 1, 2; ˈɛs eɪ, ɛˈseɪ for 3–5; verb ɛˈseɪ/

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 (transitive) (ɛˈseɪ)
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 ex-) + agere (see act) 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 essay (n.)). This sense has mostly gone with the divergent spelling assay. 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 Montaigne, Francis Bacon, and Ralph Waldo Emerson are celebrated for their essays.


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