My grandmother 1883 - 1980 insisted that a "missive" was a HAND CARRIED message or letter. I don't find this distinction in modern thinking. Any ideas?

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    I couldn't find any reference to missive meaning a hand-delivered letter, but I did find references to obsolete uses that referred to the sender: Wiktionary. That may have been your grandmother's confusion. – VampDuc Aug 28 '15 at 19:00
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    @Vampduc - Yes, "missive" doesn't refer to the lettter form or sending process. As "missive" is a quite obsolete term for standard letter, one may think that this term covers some of the characteristics of letters sent before the 20th century, i.e. hand-written and hand-delivered. – Graffito Aug 28 '15 at 19:57
  • @Graffito, Penny Post 1764, And Rowland Hill's Post 1840, so before '19th.' – Hugh Aug 28 '15 at 20:29
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    @Hugh - I did'nt refer to the usage of the word missive, but just meant that, before the 20th century, letters were not produced with typewriters or sent electronically. – Graffito Aug 28 '15 at 20:38
  • Yes, sorry. Looks like nit-picking but it was only meant as commentary. And grudging admiration for the Scots, 1764, persuaded me to post it. – Hugh Aug 28 '15 at 22:32

About the etymology, according to Etymonline:


(n.) mid-15c., "commandment," noun use of adjective (mid-15c.) meaning "sent by superior authority," from Medieval Latin missivus "for sending, sent," especially in littera missiva "letters sent," from Latin missus, past participle of mittere "to send" (see mission).

If we take a look at Collins:



1) a formal or official letter
2) a formal word for letter

So I would say that the first sense (formal letter) comes from littera missiva in the sense of 'letter sent by superior authority' and a letter sent by 'superior authority' would most likely be hand-carried). Afterwards it probably started to designate a 'common' letter.

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