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Alternative forms[edit]


From Middle English bocstaff (letter, written character), from Old English bōcstæf (letter, written symbol), from Proto-Germanic *bōkastabaz (beechwood staff; written character). Equivalent to book +‎ staff. Compare Norwegian Bokmål bokstav, Norwegian Nynorsk bokstav, Swedish bokstav, German Buchstabe, Danish bogstav, Faroese bókstavur, Icelandic bókstafur. Likely a semi-revival of the Old English term.


  • IPA(key): /ˈbʊkˌstæf/, /ˈbʊk.stɪf/, /ˈbʊk.stɑːf/, /ˈbʊk.stəf/


bookstaff (plural bookstaves or bookstaffs)

  1. (alphabetic, rare) letter, letter of the alphabet, a written character.
    • 1870, The American Educational Monthly - Volume 7, page 449:
      Brother Ormin cautions transcribers to follow his spelling exactly —And tat he looke well that he (And that he look well that he), An bookstaff write tweis (A letter write twice), Eywhere then it upo this book (Wherever then it upon this book) Is written o that wise (Is written on that wise), For he ne may nought elles (For he may not else) On English writen right te word (In English write right the word).
    • 1884, The Builder - Volume 46:
      As the “bookstaff” had vanished before the littera, another substance had to be employed for the purpose of writing, and the skins of animals, properly prepared and called bók fell, or book skins, appeared.
    • 1932, Seumas O'Sullivan, The Dublin magazine:
      This is Aleph, says Isaac ; the first bookstaff in the grammatic.
    • 2011, Terrence J. White, My Joy in the Morning:
      Here I sit with a pencil and pad / Pouring out my ideas / Making bookstaff images of ideas I've had / Write down the vision and make it plain / So that all who pass by can catch it / Well A B C - 1 2 3 []