The term “letter” comes from the Latin word “littera,” which means “a letter of the alphabet” or “a written message.” Here’s a detailed chronological breakdown:

1. Proto-Indo-European (PIE)

The PIE root “*lit-,” meaning “to smear” or “to stain,” is associated with writing, as early writing involved making marks or inscriptions.

2. Latin

From the PIE root, the Latin word “littera” developed, meaning “a letter of the alphabet.” Over time, “littera” also came to mean a written communication or epistle.

3. Old French (c. 9th to 14th century CE)

The Latin term “littera” evolved into Old French “lettre,” meaning “a letter of the alphabet” or “a written message.”

4. Middle English (c. 11th to 15th century CE)

The Old French “lettre” was adopted into Middle English as “letter,” meaning both “a letter of the alphabet” and “a written communication.”

5. Modern English (from 15th century CE to present)

The term “letter” evolved into its current form and pronunciation, retaining its dual meanings: one of the characters that make up the alphabet and a written or printed message addressed to a person or organization.

The word “letter” reflects the evolution of written communication, encompassing both the fundamental components of written language (alphabet letters) and the practice of sending written messages.