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Letter vs Epistle vs Missive vs Note vs Message vs Dispatch vs Report vs Memorandum

Letter, epistlemissivenotemessagedispatchreportmemorandum are comparable when they mean a communication sent or transmitted as distinct from one conveyed directly from source to recipient (as by oral utterance).

Letter is the ordinary term for a written, typed, or printed communication sent by one person or group to another most often by mail; the term carries no implications about the nature of the communication and no hint as to whether it deals with personal or business matters or with affairs of public concern.

Epistle applies especially to a letter intended to be made public (as one of the scriptural letters of advice and counsel attributed to the Apostles) or to a composition in prose or poetry taking the form of an open letter. As applied to a private letter, epistle is an overformal word typically used with some degree of humorous or ironic implication.

Missive, too, is a somewhat formal term and as applied to a personal letter may be somewhat ironic or whimsical in implication.

Note in general use applies to a letter that is brief and pointed, whether it is formal or informal. In diplomatic usage note is applied to a formal communication sent by one government to another.

Message differs from the preceding terms in being applicable not only to a written, typed, or printed communication but to one that is orally transmitted (as over the telephone or by a messenger or servant) or is telegraphed, cabled, or radioed.

In official and especially governmental use message applies to a formal communication from the head of a state (as one sent by the president of the United States to Congress or by a governor to the law-making body of his state).

Dispatch applies to a usually brief message that is sent posthaste (as by telegraph, cable, or radiotelegraph). In more technical use dispatch applies to such messages sent by an authorized correspondent to a newspaper or news association; it also specifically applies to an official message, often one in cipher, sent by or to a government to or by a diplomatic, military, or naval officer in its service.

Report (see also ACCOUNT 2 ) applies particularly to a communication sent by an official (as a diplomat) to his own government. The term is also applicable to an official communication giving a detailed statement of facts, proceedings, or recommendations.

Memorandum is used chiefly in business for an informal communication sent to an executive or employee, conveying instructions or directions.