essay

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

noun

verb (used with object)

to try; attempt.
to put to the test; make trial of.

Origin of essay

1475–85; < Middle French essayer, cognate with Anglo-French assayer to assay < Late Latin exagium a weighing, equivalent to *exag(ere), for Latin exigere to examine, test, literally, to drive out (see exact) + -ium -ium
Related formses·say·er, nounpre·es·say, verb (used without object)un·es·sayed, adjectivewell-es·sayed, adjective
Can be confusedassay essay
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

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British Dictionary definitions for essay

essay

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

Word Origin for essay

C15: from Old French essaier to attempt, from essai an attempt, from Late Latin exagium a weighing, from Latin agere to do, compel, influenced by exigere to investigate
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

Word Origin and History for essay
n.

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.

v.

"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.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Culture definitions for essay

essay

A short piece of writing on one subject, usually presenting the author's own views. Michel de Montaigne, Francis Bacon (see also Bacon), and Ralph Waldo Emerson are celebrated for their essays.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.