Words for letters in English and German. It is not immediately obvious from the German word for a letter, Brief, that such a document should also be “brief” in the English sense (or kurz in the German), but in fact both words go back to the Latin brevis (libellus), “a brief (writing).” There are many ways of filling out the phrases “letter of ____” or “____ letter.” While some English letter types can only be designated by the latter format, e.g. “cover letter,” others are more often attested in the former word order, hence “letter of agreement” and “letter of inquiry” are more common than “agreement letter” and “inquiry letter.” Other common expressions for letter types include the acceptance letter, apology letter, application letter, business letter, complaint letter, congratulation letter, friendly letter, invitation letter, love letter, newsletter, prayer letter, recommendation letter, and rejection letter.
The fate of letter writing today. According to H. Belke, Literarische Gebrauchsformen, 156 n. 21 (with reference to G. Jappe, “Vom Briefwechsel zum Schriftwechsel,” Merkur 23  351–62), the perfecting of the postal service has contributed to the decline of the letter, because during previous times of less frequent postal delivery, people knew how use this precious medium with greater care. Belke adds that the letter remained “a highly respected literary form governed by rhetorical and stylistic norms and rules well into the eighteenth century. Letter writing was considered an art, like poetry and oratory.… The increasing subjectivity of literary expression associated with the general retreat of normative poetics, especially in the romantic period, was naturally destined to have a great effect on the letter as the most personal form of communication.” Finally the many new possibilities for communication also played their role in the decline of the letter. The quotation in Exercise 2