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literature (n.)

early 15c., "book-learning," from Latin literatura/litteratura "learning, a writing, grammar," originally "writing formed with letters," from litera/littera "alphabetic letter" also "an epistle, writing, document; literature, great books; science, learning" (see letter (n.1)). In English originally "book learning" (in which sense it replaced Old English boccræft); the meaning "activity of a writer, the profession of a literary writer" is first attested 1779 in Johnson's "Lives of the English Poets;" that of "literary productions as a whole, body of writings from a period or people" is first recorded 1812.

Great literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree. [Ezra Pound, "ABC of Reading"]

Meaning "the whole of the writing on a particular subject" is by 1860; sense of "printed matter generally" is from 1895. The Latin word also is the source of Spanish literatura, Italian letteratura, German Literatur.

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Definitions of literature from WordNet

literature (n.)
creative writing of recognized artistic value;
literature (n.)
published writings in a particular style on a particular subject;
the technical literature
one aspect of Waterloo has not yet been treated in the literature
literature (n.)
the profession or art of a writer;
her place in literature is secure
literature (n.)
the humanistic study of a body of literature;
Synonyms: lit
From wordnet.princeton.edu