essay 1590s, "short non-fiction literary composition" (first attested in writings of Francis Bacon, probably in imitation of Montaigne), from . essai "trial, attempt, essay," from . exagium "a weighing, weight," from L. exigere "test," from ex- "out" + agere apparently meaning here "to weigh." The suggestion is of unpolished writing. The more literal verb meaning "to put to proof, test the mettle of" is from late 15c.; this sense has mostly gone with the divergent spelling assay (.). Related: Essayed; essaying. Essayist is from .
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