AskDefine | Define manuscript

Dictionary Definition



1 the form of a literary work submitted for publication [syn: ms]
2 handwritten book or document [syn: holograph]

User Contributed Dictionary



from Latin manu scriptus, "written by hand"


  1. A book, or any other document, written by hand.
  2. A book, article etc, written by hand or typewritten, submitted for publication.
  3. handwriting


book, or any other document, written by hand
book, article etc, written by hand or typewritten, submitted for publication

Extensive Definition

A manuscript is any document that is written by hand, as opposed to being printed or reproduced in some other way. The term may also be used for information that is hand-recorded in other ways than writing, for example inscriptions that are chiselled upon a hard material or scratched (the original meaning of graffiti) as with a knife point in plaster or with a stylus on a waxed tablet, (the way Romans made notes), or are in cuneiform writing, impressed with a pointed stylus in a flat tablet of unbaked clay. The word manuscript is derived from the Latin manu scriptus, literally "written by hand."
In publishing and academic contexts, a "manuscript" is the text submitted to the publisher or printer in preparation for publication, usually as a typescript prepared on a typewriter, or today, a printout from a PC, prepared in manuscript format.
Originally, all books were in manuscript form. In China, and later other parts of East Asia, Woodblock printing was used for books from about the seventh century. The earliest dated example is the Diamond Sutra of 868. In the Islamic world and the West, all books were in manuscript until the introduction of movable type printing in about 1450. Manuscript copying of books continued for a least a century, as printing remained expensive. Private or government documents remained hand-written until the invention of the typewriter in the late nineteenth century. Because of the likelihood of errors being introduced each time a manuscript was copied, the filiation of different version of the same text is a fundamental part of the study and criticism of all texts that have been transmitted in manuscript.
In Southeast Asia, in the first millennium, documents of sufficiently great importance were inscribed on soft metallic sheets such as copperplate, softened by refiner's fire and inscribed with a metal stylus. In the Philippines, for example, as early as 900 CE, specimen documents were not inscribed by stylus, but were punched much like the style of today's dot-matrix printers. This type of document was rare compared to the usual leaves and bamboo staves that were inscribed. However, neither the leaves nor paper were as durable as the metal document in the hot, humid climate. In Myanmar, the kammavaca, buddhist manuscripts, were inscribed on brass, copper or ivory sheets, and even on discarded monk robes folded and lacquered. In Italy some important Etruscan texts were similarly inscribed on thin gold plates: similar sheets have been discovered in Bulgaria. Technically, these are all inscriptions rather than manuscripts.
Manuscripts are not defined by their contents, which may combine writing with mathematical calculations, maps, explanatory figures or illustrations. Manuscripts may be in the form of scrolls or in book form, or codex format. Illuminated manuscripts are enriched with pictures, border decorations, elaborately engrossed initial letters or full-page illustrations.

Manuscripts in history

The traditional abbreviations are MS for manuscript and MSS for manuscripts. The second s is not simply the plural; by an old convention, it doubles the last letter of the abbreviation to express the plural, just as pp. means "pages".
Before the invention of woodblock printing in China or by moveable type in a printing press in Europe, all written documents had to be both produced and reproduced by hand. Historically, manuscripts were produced in form of scrolls (volumen in Latin) or books (codex, plural codices). Manuscripts were produced on vellum and other parchments, on papyrus, and on paper. In Russia birch bark documents as old as from the 11th century have survived. In India the Palm leaf manuscript, with a distinctive long rectangular shape, was used from ancient times until the 19th century. Paper spread from China via the Islamic world to Europe by the 14th century, and by the late 15th century had largely replaced parchment for many purposes.
When Greek or Latin works were published, numerous professional copies were made simultaneously by scribes in a scriptorium, each making a single copy from an original that was declaimed aloud.
The oldest written manuscripts have been preserved by the perfect dryness of their Middle Eastern resting places, whether placed within sarcophagi in Egyptian tombs, or reused as mummy-wrappings, discarded in the middens of Oxyrhynchus or secreted for safe-keeping in jars and buried (Nag Hammadi library) or stored in dry caves (Dead Sea scrolls). Manuscripts in Tocharian languages, written on palm leaves, survived in desert burials in the Tarim Basin of Central Asia. Volcanic ash preserved some of the Greek library of the Villa of the Papyri in Herculaneum.
Ironically, the manuscripts that were being most carefully preserved in the libraries of Antiquity are virtually all lost. Papyrus has a life of at most a century or two in relatively moist Italian or Greek conditions; only those works copied onto parchment, usually after the general conversion to Christianity, have survived, and by no means all of those.
The study of the writing, or "hand" in surviving manuscripts is termed palaeography. In the Western world, from the classical period through the early centuries of the Christian era, manuscripts were written without spaces between the words (scriptio continua), which makes them especially hard for the untrained to read. Extant copies of these early manuscripts written in Greek or Latin and usually dating from the 4th century to the 8th century, are classified according to their use of either all upper case or all lower case letters. Hebrew manuscripts, such as the Dead Sea scrolls make no such differentiation. Manuscripts using all upper case letters are called majuscule, those using all lower case are called minuscule. Usually, the majuscule scripts such as uncial are written with much more care. The scribe lifted his pen between each stroke, producing an unmistakable effect of regularity and formality. On the other hand, while minuscule scripts can be written with pen-lift, they may also be cursive, that is, use little pen-lift.

Manuscripts today

In the context of library science, a manuscript is defined as any hand-written item in the collections of a library or an archive; for example, a library's collection of the letters or a diary that some historical personage wrote.
In other contexts, however, the use of the term "manuscript" no longer necessarily means something that is hand-written. By analogy a "typescript" has been produced on a typewriter.
In book, magazine, and music publishing, a manuscript is an original copy of a work written by an author or composer, which generally follows standardized typographic and formatting rules. (The staff paper commonly used for handwritten music is, for this reason, often called "manuscript paper.") In film and theatre, a manuscript, or script for short, is an author's or dramatist's text, used by a theater company or film crew during the production of the work's performance or filming. More specifically, a motion picture manuscript is called a screenplay; a television manuscript, a teleplay; a manuscript for the theater, a stage play; and a manuscript for audio-only performance is often called a radio play, even when the recorded performance is disseminated via non-radio means.
In insurance, a manuscript policy is one that is negotiated between the insurer and the policyholder, as opposed to an off-the-shelf form supplied by the insurer.

Manuscripts by authors

An average manuscript page in 12 point Times Roman will contain about 23 lines of type per page and about 13 words per line, or 300 words per manuscript page. Thus if a contract between an author and publisher specifies the manuscript to be of, say, 500 pages, it generally means 150,000 words.


See also

manuscript in Arabic: مخطوط
manuscript in Breton: Dornskrid
manuscript in Catalan: Manuscrit
manuscript in Czech: Rukopis
manuscript in Welsh: Llawysgrif
manuscript in Danish: Manuskript
manuscript in German: Manuskript
manuscript in Modern Greek (1453-): Χειρόγραφο
manuscript in Spanish: Manuscrito
manuscript in Persian: دستنویس
manuscript in French: Manuscrit
manuscript in Indonesian: Naskah
manuscript in Italian: Manoscritto
manuscript in Hebrew: כתב יד (מקור)
manuscript in Latin: Manuscriptum
manuscript in Dutch: Handschrift (document)
manuscript in Japanese: 写本
manuscript in Norwegian: Manuskript
manuscript in Polish: Rękopis
manuscript in Portuguese: Manuscrito
manuscript in Romanian: Manuscris
manuscript in Russian: Манускрипт
manuscript in Simple English: Manuscript
manuscript in Slovak: Manuskript
manuscript in Sundanese: Naskah
manuscript in Finnish: Käsikirjoitus
manuscript in Swedish: Handskrift
manuscript in Vietnamese: Bản thảo
manuscript in Chinese: 手抄本

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Aldine, Aldine book, Elzevir, Elzevir book, article, autograph, autographic, autography, brainchild, calligraphic, calligraphy, chirographic, chirography, codex, composed matter, composition, computer printout, copy, cradle book, cursive, dead matter, document, draft, early edition, edited version, engrossed, engrossment, essay, fair copy, fiction, final draft, finished version, first draft, first edition, fist, flimsy, flowing, graphanalysis, graphic, graphoanalytic, graphologic, graphology, graphometric, graphometry, hand, handwriting, holograph, holographic, in longhand, in shorthand, in writing, incunabulum, inscribed, italic, italicized, letter, literae scriptae, literary artefact, literary production, literature, live matter, longhand, lucubration, matter, nonfiction, on paper, opus, original, paleography, paper, parchment, penciled, pencraft, penmanship, penned, penscript, piece, piece of writing, play, poem, printed, printed matter, printout, production, rare book, reading matter, recension, running, screed, scrip, script, scription, scriptorial, scriptural, scrive, scroll, second draft, shorthand, standing matter, stylographic, stylography, the written word, transcript, transcription, typescript, version, work, writing, written
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