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literacy, n.

Frequency (in current use): 
Origin: Formed within English, by derivation. Etymons: literate adj., -acy suffix.
Etymology: < literate adj. (see -acy suffix), originally after illiteracy n.
orig. U.S.

 1. The quality, condition, or state of being literate; the ability to read and write. Also: the extent of this in a given community, region, period, etc. Cf. numeracy n.In earliest use as an antithesis to illiteracy.
adult literacy, mass literacy: see the first element.

1880   Atlantic Monthly Nov. 722   It is not illiteracy I want to prevent, but literacy!
1888   New Princeton Rev. Dec. 336   Education is more general, our literacy greatly increased, our habits and tastes more refined.
1893   Athenæum 19 Aug. 255/3   It was for Mr. Edgar to trace the gradual progress in Scotland from illiteracy to literacy.
1940   Educ. Forum May 377/2   The literacy for the U.S. as a whole is 95.3 and for the mid-west 98.
1982   J. C. Raymond Literacy as Human Probl. 14   It would be convenient if literacy could be given out like hot lunches in the schools..to make avid readers of children who see no books at home.
2008   D. Crystal Txtng i. 10   There is increasing evidence that it [sc. text messaging] helps rather than hinders literacy.

1880—2008(Hide quotations)


 2. In extended use (usually with modifying word). The ability to ‘read’ a specified subject or medium; competence or knowledge in a particular area.computer literacy, cultural literacy, etc.: see the first element.

1943   Amer. Mag. Mar. 103/1   To help many of the poverty-stricken peoples to set their feet on the path of education, manual dexterity, and economic literacy.
1962   B.B.C. Handbk. 33   Our skills in the understanding of the medium [sc. television] and our own literacy in it are growing all the time.
1977   J. Monaco How to read Film i. 40   The new musical literacy that recordings helped to create..redounded to the benefit of the popular musical arts.
1997   Independent 7 July (Tabloid section) 8/3   The majority of doctors are not consciously cruel, but they are trained to see patients as body parts... What doctors need is a framework of emotional literacy.
2003   Independent 4 Mar. 16/7   The standard of design literacy is so high that..we have become a nation of interior designers.

1943—2003(Hide quotations)



 C1. General attrib., as literacy rate, literacy skills, etc.Recorded earliest in literacy test n. at Compounds 2.

1900 [see literacy test n. at Compounds 2].
1912   I. A. Hourwich Immigration & Labor iii. 70   The economic status of a people has a very decided effect upon the literacy rate.
1941   School Rev. 49 600   The evening junior college might send those seeking literacy skills to the proper agency.
1961   Ebony Apr. 27 (caption)    She is a night class literacy teacher at Cleveland's East Technical High School.
1967   N.Y. Times 30 July 54/5   Migrants can obtain basic housekeeping, construction and literacy lessons.
1988   G. Northam Shooting in Dark (1989) x. 157   They run scruffy advice centres in church basements, organize literacy projects for the Manpower Services Commission and help ex-offenders.
1992   Economist 3 Oct. 79/1   Montagnard children, kept home to work the land, grow up unable to read in a country whose national literacy rate is 88%.
2002   Book Sept.–Oct. l11/1   Kids who go through what educators call strategic instruction show dramatic improvement in literacy skills.

1900—2002(Hide quotations)


  literacy hour   n. (also with capital initials) Brit. Educ. (in primary schools) a daily literacy lesson, made part of the national curriculum in 1998; cf. numeracy hour n. at numeracy n. Compounds.

1997   Guardian 7 Jan. (Educ. section) 4/1   The National Literacy Project... Describes its guiding principles as the ‘literacy hour’, which protects time for daily, direct teaching, and ‘a clear focus on instructional methods’.
2006   Times Educ. Suppl. (Nexis) 12 May 8   In the past month, the literacy hour has been all but abolished in its original form, with primary teachers being told to make their lessons more creative, using a variety of methods.

1997—2006(Hide quotations)


  literacy test   n. an examination which assesses a person's ability to read and write; (U.S.) such an examination required as a condition of voting (now hist.).

1900   Hartford (Connecticut) Courant 26 Nov. 10/2   An honest literacy test, honestly enforced in the case of white and black alike, is a wholly different matter.
1968   R. Roberts Imprisoned Tongues 13   It is, of course, extremely difficult to devise the foolproof literacy test.
2001   U.S. News & World Rep. 18 June 12/1   It traditionally refers to literacy tests, poll taxes, and other obstacles deliberately placed before blacks to prevent them from voting.

1900—2001(Hide quotations)


This entry has been updated (OED Third Edition, September 2011).

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