OED s.v. 'pamphlet'

pamphlet ('pæmflit), n. Forms: [4 panfletus], 4-7 pamflet, (6 pamflete, -flett(e, 5 pamfilet, pampelet, paunflet, plaun-); 6- pamphlet, (6 pamphelet, 7 -lett(e), pamphlete, -lette, pampfelette.

[Appears in 14th c. in Anglo-Latin (panfletus), English (pamflet, 15th c. pamfilet, paunflet); app. a generalized use of Pamphilet or Panflet, a familiar name of the 12th c. Latin amatory poem or comedy called Pamphilus, seu de Amore (in OF. Pamphilet, MDu. Panflet), a highly popular opuscule in the 13th c. Cf. the familiar appellations of other small works similarly formed with dim. -et, e.g. Catonet the Distichs of (pseudo-) Cato, Esopet, the Fables of Æsop, etc. (See note below.) Hence in 17-18th c. adopted in French and other langs.]

1. A small treatise occupying fewer pages or sheets than would make a book, composed and

(a) written, or

(b) (since c 1500) printed, and issued as a separate work; always (at least in later use) unbound, with or without paper covers.

In a general sense used irrespective of subject (applied e.g. in 1495, to a codicil to a will, of only about 170 words), and in 17th c. including issues of single plays, romances, poems, novelettes, newspapers, news-letters, and other periodicals; still sometimes applied to chap-books, and the like; but not now usually to anything of purely literary character, or of religious nature, even though issued 'in pamphlet form'.


1490 Caxton Eneydos Prol. 3 Sittyng in my studye where as laye many dyuerse paunflettis and bookys.


1496 Fysshynge with Angle (1883) 37 That this present treatyse sholde not come to the hondys of eche ydle persone whyche wolde desire it, yf it were enpryntyd allone by itself & put in a lytyll plaunflet, therfore I haue compylyd it in a greter volume of dyuerse bokys.

1623 Gouge Serm. Extent God's Provid. Ded., In regard of the smalnesse of it, it [this Sermon] is indeed but as a little Pamphlet.

1778 Johnson 25 Apr. in Boswell, A few sheets of poetry unbound are a pamphlet as much as a few sheets of prose.

2. More specifically, a treatise of the size and form above described on some subject or question of current or temporary interest, personal, social, political, ecclesiastical, or controversial, on which the writer desires to appeal to the public.

This is merely a consequential specialization, arising from the fact that works of this kind are those for which the pamphlet form is now mainly employed.

1683 Crowne City Politiques iv. i, As paper in Holland passes for money, Pamphlets with us pass for religion and policy.

1791 Mackintosh Vind. Gallicæ Wks. 1846 III. 20 Pamphlet succeeded pamphlet, surpassing each other in boldness and elevation.

1841 D'Israeli Amen. Lit. (1867) 687 The age of Charles the First may be characterised as the age of pamphlets.

3. attrib. and Comb.

a. attrib.

1646 Sir T. Browne Pseud. Ep. 34 We are to cast a wary eye on those diminutive, and pamphlet Treaties dayly published among us.

1715 M. Davies Athen. Brit. I. 4 Tracts .. often since publish'd separately, in Pamphlet-Forms, as well as mostly upon Pamphlet-Subjects.

1730 Fielding Author's Farce iii. i, The scribbler in a pamphlet war.

1899 Daily News 13 June 8/3 An Introductory Letter .. which occupies sixty-nine pages, and is in pamphlet form, and pamphlet spirit.

b. Comb., as pamphlet-book, -history, -octavo, -shop, -stall, -title, -writer, -writing; pamphlet-sized adj.; pamphlet-wise adv.

1613 Beaum. & Fl. Honest Man's Fort. iii. ii, Have copies of it posted on posts, Like *pamphlet-titles, that sue to be sold.

Hence (nonce-wds.)

'pamphletage, the aggregate of pamphlets, pamphlets collectively;

pamphle-tette, a small pamphlet;

'pamphletful, as much as a pamphlet will contain;

pam-phletic, -ical adjs., pertaining to or of the nature of a pamphlet;

'pamphletism, an expression or manner of speech characteristic of pamphlets;

'pamphletize v., intr. to write a pamphlet or pamphlets; trans. to write a pamphlet upon;

'pamphletless a., without a pamphlet.

1896 A. Lang in Longm. Mag. July 110 The *pamphletage of the subject must be vast.

1876 N. Amer. Rev. CXXIII. 426 It included in ten words a *pamphletful of political insight.

1715 M. Davies Athen. Brit. I. Pref. 8 Expressing the *Pamphletick Character, and the Pseudonymous Inconsiderableness of those Libelling Insults.

1716 M. Davies Athen. Brit. II. To Rdr. 4 Those Libel-Granado's and Dragooning *Pamphletisms.

1828 Blackw. Mag. XXIV. 21 Our Irish preacher .. did not intend to preach, but merely to pamphletize.

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