[nounes-ey for 1, 2; es-ey, e-seyfor 3–5; verb e-sey]
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.
Origin of essay
1475–85; < Middle Frenchessayer, cognate with Anglo-Frenchassayer to assay < Late Latinexagium a weighing, equivalent to *exag(ere), for Latinexigere 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, adjectiveCan be confusedassayessay
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.