A Man of Letters – Idiom, Origin & Meaning

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

What does a man of letters mean? Well, I can tell you it’s not your local mailman carting your actual letter mail around. It’s actually an adjective phrase to describe a bookworm. But it goes far deeper than that, so let’s dive in and see what a man of letters really means, where it came from, and check out a few sentence examples using the phrase.

A Man of Letters Idiom Meaning

A Man of Letters Idiom Origin Meaning

A man of letters is a phrase as delightfully antiquated as a quill pen. We use it to describe someone who appears to be scholarly or learned—a person who’s deeply studied literature and other related fields.

Picture someone surrounded by books, scribbling away with fervor. Now that I think of it, it sounds a lot like me when I’m deep in plotting and outlining my latest novel!

A Man of Letters Ngram
A man of letters usage trend.

But in all seriousness, a man of letters isn’t as popular of a term as it used to be, but it’s still relevant today. Think of college professors, Shakespeare or Albert Einstein, as some good examples.

A Man of Letters Origin and Etymology

Man of Letters Ngram
Man of letters usage trend.

This phrase has been loitering around in our language since the 1800s, a time when people wrote letters by candlelight and tweeting was something only birds did. It’s derived from the French term homme de lettres. So, a man of letters has a certain je ne sais quoi to it, wouldn’t you agree?

Is There a Woman of Letters?

Of course! In the interest of gender equality, we can definitely talk about a woman of letters. We just say man because the idea was birthed from a time when men were scholars and women weren’t as commonly so. The term isn’t supposed to be about gender, but the love for literature and scholarly pursuits that counts.

So, whether you’re a man, woman or a sentient alien from Alpha Centauri, if you love the written word, you can proudly wear the badge of a person of letters.

What Is a Synonym for a Man of Letters?

  • Scholar
  • Intellectual
  • Academic
  • Bookworm
  • Smartypants
  • Literati

How Do You Use a Man of Letters in a Sentence?

A Man of Letters Idiom Origin Meaning 1

It’s time to put this phrase into action. These examples show you exactly how to use a man of letters when speaking or writing.

  • Despite his humble background, Darren became a man of letters and proved to everyone that it doesn’t matter about your background. Anyone can go to university and achieve their dreams.
  • Margaret was not only a woman of letters but also a notable philosopher of her time.
  • A man of letters by profession, he spent his free time painting and playing the piano with his kids.
  • As a woman of letters in the Fantasy world, I’m often invited to speak at literary gatherings and conventions.

Are You a Person of Letters?

Now, loaded with this knowledge, you’re ready to use this phrase with ease. If you keep reading my grammar guides, you’ll be a person of letters, too! Just remember that it basically means a really smart person who’s well-read.

Enjoyed reading about this idiom? Check out some others we covered: