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Borrowed from Middle French acrostiche, acrostique (acrostic) (modern French acrostiche), and its etymon Late Latin acrostichis, from Ancient Greek ἀκροστιχίς (akrostikhís), from ἄκρο- (ákro-, prefix indicating, among other things, the extremity or tip of something) + στῐ́χος (stíkhos, row or file of soldiers; line of poetry, verse) (ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *steygʰ- (to climb, go)).[1]



acrostic (plural acrostics) (also attributively)

  1. A poem or other text in which certain letters, often the first in each line, spell out a name or message. [from 16th c.]
    • 1600 December 8, Abraham Hartwell, “Nº LXXXV. Of the Same [i.e., Of the Antiquity, Variety, and Reason of Motts, with Arms of Noblemen and Gentlemen in England].”, in Thomas Hearne, editor, A Collection of Curious Discourses Written by Eminent Antiquaries upon Several Heads in Our English Antiquities. [] In Two Volumes, 2nd edition, volume I, London: Printed by and for W. and J. Richardson, published 1771, →OCLC, pages 278–279:
      He [Judas Maccabeus] was termed Mackabæus, becauſe he carried in his ſtandard, or vexillum militare, theſe four Hebrew letters, Mem, Chaph, Beth, and Jod, or M. C. B. and J. whereunto their points being added, which are their vowells, (for others they have none) his mott was Mackabai, whereof he took his name. Theſe four letters are the acroſtickes or initiall letters of theſe four wordes in the fifteenth chapter of the book of Exodus, Mi Chamocha Baalim Jehovah, which is in Latin Quis ſicut tu Deorum Jehova? ["Who among the gods is like you, O Adonai?", Exodus 15:11.]
    • 1603, Hugh Holland, “To Sir Robert Cotton, Knight, Lord of Cunnington”, in Pancharis: The First Booke. Containing the Preparation of the Loue betweene Ovven Tudyr, and the Queene, long since Intended to Her Maiden Maiestie: [], printed at London: By V[alentine] S[immes] for Clement Knight, →OCLC; republished as J[ohn] P[ayne] C[ollier], editor, Pancharis: The First Booke. [] (Illustrations of Old English Literature [Green Series]; volume 2, number 1), [London: Privately printed], 1866, →OCLC, page 55:
      I have written an acroſticke ſonet to his Maieſtie, a canzonet to the Queene, and another acroſticke unto the Prince; whoſe ſervant I am by vow, and ſubordinate ſubject by birth.
    • 1638, Democritus Junior [pseudonym; Robert Burton], “Exercise Rectified of Body and Minde”, in The Anatomy of Melancholy. [], 5th edition, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Printed [by Robert Young, Miles Flesher, and Leonard Lichfield and William Turner] for Henry Cripps, →OCLC, partition 2, section 2, member 4, page 282:
      [L]et him that is melancholy [] apply his minde I ſay to Heraldry, Antiquity, invent Impreſſes, Emblemes; make Epithalamiums, Epitaphs, Elegies, Epigrams, Palindrona Epigrammata, Anagrams, Chronograms, Acroſticks, upon his friends names; []
    • 1684 August 30, “Disquisitio de Magia Divinatrice & Operatrice &c. Auctore Francisco Moncæio 4º Francofurti & Lipsiæ 1683 [book review]”, in Philosophical Transactions: Giving Some Accompt of the Present Undertakings, Studies and Labours of the Ingenious in Many Considerable Parts of the World, volume XIV, number 162, London: Printed by T. R. for John Martyn, printer to the Royal Society;  [], published 1670, →OCLC, pages 707–708:
      And afterwards gives as many reaſons for it, as there are letters in Hibernaculum Ciconiarum, and that too in the Acrostick way, each ſentence beginning with a letter of thoſe words, according to their order.
    • 1711 May 21 (Gregorian calendar), Joseph Addison, Richard Steele [et al.], “THURSDAY, May 10, 1711”, in The Spectator, number 61; republished in Alexander Chalmers, editor, The Spectator; a New Edition, [], volume I, New York, N.Y.: D[aniel] Appleton & Company, 1853, →OCLC, page 379:
      There is a most crying dullness on both sides. I have seen tory acrostics and whig anagrams, and do not quarrel with either of them, because they are whigs or tories, but because they are anagrams and acrostics.
    • 1726 October 28, [Jonathan Swift], “A Further Account of the Academy. []”, in Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. [], volume II, London: [] Benj[amin] Motte, [], →OCLC, part III (A Voyage to Laputa, Balnibarbi, Glubbdubdribb, Luggnagg, and Japan), page 92:
      But ſhould this Method fail, recourſe might be had to others more effectual, by Learned Men called Acroſticks and Anagrams. Firſt, might be found Men of Skill and Penetration who can diſcern that all initial Letters have political Meanings.
    • a. 1765, Robert Lloyd, “The Puff. A Dialogue between the Bookseller and Author.”, in W[illiam] Kenrick, editor, The Poetical Works of Robert Lloyd, A.M. [] In Two Volumes, volume I, London: Printed for T[homas] Evans [], published 1774, →OCLC, page 175:
      No Crambo, no Acrostic fine, / Great letters lacing down each line; / No ſtrange Conundrum, no invention / Beyond the reach of comprehenſion, / [...] / Shall ſtrive to pleaſe you, at th' expence / Of ſimple taſte, and common ſenſe.
    • 1822, Daniel Lysons, Samuel Lysons, “Modbury”, in Magna Britannia; being a Concise Topographical Account of the Several Counties of Great Britain, volume VI (Containing Devonshire), part II, London: Printed for Thomas Cadell, [], →OCLC, footnote p, page 345:
      On this monument is a long epitaph in verse, which is printed in Prince's Worthies. It is an acrostic, the first letters of each line forming the words "Oliver Hill of Shilston."
    • 1828 March 1, “Confessions over a Bottle”, in The Paisley Magazine, volume I, number 3, Paisley, Renfrewshire: David Dick, →OCLC, page 109:
      I became a contributor to things monthly. I produced charade upon charade, rebus upon rebus, and acrostick upon acrostick, to the admiration of every body except my parents. Poor people! they were devoid of taste, and knew not the value of such a son.
    • 1929 November, Robert Graves, chapter VIII, in Good-bye to All That: An Autobiography, London: Jonathan Cape [], →OCLC, page 83:
      Both poems, which were signed with pseudonyms, were acrostics, the initial letters spelling out a 'case.' 'Case' meant 'romance,' a formal coupling of two boys' names, with the name of the elder boy first. [...] But nothing much would have come of it had not another of the sixth-form members of the Poetry Society been in love with one of the smaller boys whose names appeared in the acrostics. In rage and jealousy he went to the headmaster and called his attention to the acrostic – which otherwise neither he nor any other of the masters would have noticed.
    • 1987, Jack Goody, “Language and Writing”, in The Interface between the Written and the Oral (Studies in Literacy, Family, Culture and the State), Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, New York, N.Y.: Cambridge University Press, published 1993, →ISBN, part IV (Writing and Its Impact on Individuals in Society), page 272:
      A more general form of manipulation of linguistic signs is the acrostic, a set of verses (or words) whose initial letters form a word, phrase or even a sentence. The acrostic constituted a common feature of Egyptian texts as well as forming an important element in the Old Testament [...].
    • 2009, Marcia L. Tate, “Strategy 9: Mnemonic Devices”, in Mathematics Worksheets Dont Grow Dendrites: 20 Numeracy Strategies that Engage the Brain, PreK–8, Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin Press, SAGE Publishing, →ISBN, page 65:
      Acrostics and acronyms are examples of mnemonic devices. [...] Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally (PEMDAS), has become the most well-known acrostic for helping students remember the order of operations when solving an algebraic equation. The acrostic reminds students to start by solving inside the parentheses, then simplifying the exponents, next multiplying or dividing (whichever comes first when looking from left to right), then finally adding or subtracting (whichever comes first from left to right).
  2. A poem in Hebrew in which successive lines or verses start with consecutive letters of the alphabet.
    • 1744, Thomas Stackhouse, “From the Death of Josiah to the Babylonish Captivity”, in A New History of the Holy Bible, from the Beginning of the World, to the Establishment of Christianity. [], 2nd edition, London: Printed for Stephen Austen, [], →OCLC, book VI, footnote, page 950:
      The Whole [of the Book of Zephaniah] is wrote in a very lively, tender, and pathetic Stile; and all the Chapters, except the laſt, (which ſeems to have been of later Compoſition than the reſt) are in Acroſtick Verſe, i.e. every Line, or Couplet, begins, in an Alphabetical Order, with ſome Letter in the Hebrew Alphabet.
    • 1837, George R[apall] Noyes, “Notes on Lamentations”, in A New Translation of the Hebrew Prophets, Arranged in Chronological Order, volume II (Containing Nahum, Zephaniah, Habakkuk, Obadiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations), Boston, Mass.: James Munroe and Company, →OCLC, page 288:
      Each of the five chapters of the Lamentations contains a distinct elegy, according to the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. And in the first four chapters the versification resembles acrostics. In the three first chapters each verse consists of three lines, and the initial letters of each verse are in the order of the Hebrew alphabet, with the exception that i. 7, and ii. 19, consist of five lines.
    • 2002, Richard J. Clifford, “Psalm 34”, in Psalms 1–72 (Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries), Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, →ISBN, page 173:
      The psalm is an individual thanksgiving that publicizes the psalmist as an encouragement for all who struggle to remain loyal to their God. It is in acrostic form in which every line begins with a successive letter of the twenty-two letter Hebrew alphabet. [] The acrostic form perhaps explains why the specificity one expects in a thanksgiving is diluted.
  3. A kind of word puzzle, whose solution forms an anagram of a quotation, with its initial letters often forming the name of the person quoted.
    • 2003, Anne Brown, “Introduction”, in Challenging Acrostic Puzzles, New York, N.Y.: Sterling Publishing Co., →ISBN, page 5:
      For those of you who are new to acrostics, here is what to do. Your goal is to figure out the quote in the grid. [] Reading down the first letter of each answer spells the name of the author and the title of the work from which the quote was taken.

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  • Irish: acrastach



acrostic (comparative more acrostic, superlative most acrostic)

  1. Of or pertaining to acrostics.
    • 1998, Deborah J. Bennett, Randomness, Harvard University Press, page 42:
      Other ancients have suggested that the original verses were written in hieroglyphs and also mentioned the acrostic code.

Alternative forms[edit]



  1. ^ acrostic, adj.1 and n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, December 2011; “acrostic, n.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.

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