General English


  • noun a system of sending letters and parcels from one place to another


  • noun letters sent or received
  • verb to send something by post


  • noun electronic messages to and from users of a bulletin board or network


  • The transmission of messages, with or without attachments, over a communications network such as the Internet. The first part of a mail is the header, which contains information such as the email address of the sender, the time and date sent, and the subject. This is followed by the body, which usually consists of the text that the sender wishes to communicate. There may also be one or more attachments, which are appended files. There are standard protocols, such as SMTP, which define factors such as message format, while standard mail servers, such as IMAP, provide storage of messages in virtual mailboxes until users retrieve them. email can be accessed by properly equipped devices such as computers, PDAs, cellular phones, and the like, which have a connection to the Internet, and provides a simple and reliable means of sending messages practically instantaneously.

Information & Library Science

  • noun letters and parcels delivered by the Post Office

Origin & History of “mail”

English has two extant words mail. The one meaning ‘post’ (13th c.) goes back via Old French to Old high German malha, which meant ‘bag, pouch’. That indeed was what the word originally denoted in English (and modern French malle is still used for a ‘bag’). It was not until the 17th century that a specific application to a ‘bag for carrying letters’ emerged, and this was followed in the next century by the ‘letters, etc so carried’.

Mail ‘chain-armour’ (14th c.) comes via Old French maille ‘mesh’ from Latin macula, which originally meant ‘spot, stain’ (hence English immaculate (15th c.), etymologically ‘spotless’), but was transferred to the ‘holes in a net’, from their appearance of being spots or marks. The word maquis, made familiar in English during world War II as a term for the French resistance forces, means literally ‘scrub, undergrowth’ in French. It was borrowed from Italian macchia, a descendant of Latin macula, whose literal sense ‘spot’ was applied metaphorically to ‘bushes dotted over a hillside’.

English once had a third word mail, meaning ‘payment, tax’ (12th c.). It was borrowed from Old Norse mál ‘speech, agreement’. It now survives only in blackmail (16th c.).