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late 14c., "new things," plural of new (n.) "new thing" (see new (adj.)); after French nouvelles, which was used in Bible translations to render Medieval Latin nova (neuter plural) "news," literally "new things."
The English word was construed as singular at least from the 1560s, but it sometimes still was regarded as plural 17c.-19c. The odd and doubtful construction probably accounts for the absurd folk-etymology (attested by 1640 but originally, and in 18c. usually, in jest-books) that claims it to be an abbreviation of north east south west, as though "information from all quarters of the compass."
Meaning "tidings, intelligence of something that has lately taken place" is from early 15c. Meaning "radio or television program presenting current events" is from 1923. Bad news in the extended sense of "unpleasant person or situation" is from 1926. Expression no news, good news can be traced to 1640s. Expression news to me "something I did not know" is from 1889.
News-agent "person who deals in newspapers" is from 1817. News-hound "reporter" is by 1908. The newspaper office news desk is by 1840. News-monger "one who employs much time in hearing and telling news" is from 1590s. The News in the Virginia city Newport News is said to derive from the name of one of its founders, William Newce.
c. 1200, "graphic symbol, alphabetic sign, written character conveying information about sound in speech," from Old French letre "character, letter; missive, note," in plural, "literature, writing, learning" (10c., Modern French lettre), from Latin littera (also litera) "letter of the alphabet," also "an epistle, writing, document; literature, great books; science, learning;" a word of uncertain origin.
According to Watkins, perhaps via Etruscan from Greek diphthera "tablet" (with change of d- to l- as in lachrymose), from a hypothetical root *deph- "to stamp." In this sense it replaced Old English bocstæf, literally "book staff" (compare German Buchstabe "letter, character," from Old High German buohstab, from Proto-Germanic *bok-staba-m).
Latin littera also meant "a writing, document, record," and in plural litteræ "a letter, epistle, missive communication in writing," a sense passed through French and attested in English letter since early 13c. (replacing Old English ærendgewrit "written message," literally "errand-writing"). The Latin plural also meant "literature, books," and figuratively "learning, liberal education, schooling" (see letters).
The custom of giving the school letter as an achievement award in sports, attested by 1908, is said to have originated with University of Chicago football coach Amos Alonzo Stagg. Earlier in reference to colleges it meant "university degree or honor that adds initials to a name" (1888). Expression to the letter "precisely" is from 1520s (earlier after the letter, mid-14c.). Letter-quality (adj.) "suitable for (business) letters" is from 1977. For letters patent (with French word order) see patent (n.).
updated on May 30, 2019