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Alternative forms[edit]


From Middle English bocstaff (letter, written character), from Old English bōcstæf (letter, written symbol), from Proto-West Germanic *bōkstab, from Proto-Germanic *bōkstabaz (beechwood staff; written character). Equivalent to book +‎ staff. Cognate with Saterland Frisian Boukstäf, German Low German Bookstaav, German Buchstabe, Danish bogstav, Swedish bokstav, Norwegian Bokmål bokstav, Norwegian Nynorsk bokstav, 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. (rare or archaic) 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.
    • 1976, Poétique, page 217:
      This place of endearment! How it is clear! How they cast their spells upon, the fronds that thereup float, the bookstaffs branchings!
    • 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 []
    • 2018, Christopher Ocker, Luther, Conflict, and Christendom:
      [] “[Doctor Martin] had undercut the pope, cardinals, and the great bishops, ... he had proved they could not offer so much as a bookstave from holy scripture to prove that their great power and lordship were based on God's command.
    • 2019, James Meek, To Calais, In Ordinary Time:
      'I can't read bookstaves, but Holiday learned himself,' said Softly. [] 'He learned me a bare five bookstaves, but it was enough to read a whole word.'
    • 2020, D. Vance Smith, Arts of Dying, page 43:
      The poetic dialogue between Solomon and Saturn not only calls the rune for R the “best of bookstaves” (bocstafa brego), but it also spells out the Pater Noster, acrostically with runes, []

See also[edit]