A syllabus (/ˈsɪləbəs/; plural syllabuses[1] or syllabi[2]) or specification is a document that communicates information about a specific academic course or class and defines expectations and responsibilities. It is generally an overview or summary of the curriculum. A syllabus may be set out by an examination board or prepared by the tutor or instructor who teaches or controls the course. The word is also used more generally for an abstract or programme of knowledge, and is best known in this sense as referring to two catalogues of doctrinal positions condemned by the Catholic Church in 1864 and 1907.[3]


According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word syllabus derives from modern Latin syllabus 'list', in turn from a misreading of the Greek σίττυβος sittybos (the leather parchment label that gave the title and contents of a document), which first occurred in a 15th-century print of Cicero's letters to Atticus.[1][4] Earlier Latin dictionaries such as Lewis and Short contain the word syllabus,[5] relating it to the non-existent Greek word σύλλαβος, which appears to be a mistaken reading of syllaba 'syllable'; the newer Oxford Latin Dictionary does not contain this word.[6][self-published source?] The apparent change from sitty- to sylla- is explained as a hypercorrection by analogy to συλλαμβάνω (syllambano 'bring together, gather').[6]

Chambers Dictionary agrees that it derives from the Greek for a book label, but claims that the original Greek was a feminine noun, sittybā, σίττυβα, borrowed by Latin, the misreading coming from an accusative plural Latin sittybas.[7]

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  1. ^ a b "syllabus". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  2. ^ Merriam-Webster Dictionary <>
  3. ^ Chambers Dictionary, 1998, p. 1674.
  4. ^ "Online Etymology Dictionary - Syllabus". Retrieved 22 August 2012.
  5. ^ syllabus. Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short. A Latin Dictionary on Perseus Project.
  6. ^ a b "The Curious and Quibbling History of "Syllabus" (part 2)". Epekteinomene. Retrieved 5 May 2014.
  7. ^ Chambers Dictionary, 1998, p. 1674.