Monday, June 16, 2008

A New Spin on an Old Word

From MSN/Encarta:

"If you were asked to guess when the word e-mail was coined, chances are you'd say perhaps a couple of decades back. Would it surprise you to learn that the first use of the word is recorded from around the time of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)? Clearly, Emerson didn't use e-mail to send his manuscripts to his publisher. In fact, he couldn't even call his editor to ask when his next book was coming out -- there was no commercial telephone service then. In any case, if he missed e-mail, we can safely assume he didn't miss spam.

"What was e-mail doing at the time when there were no computers, telephones or even promises of large sums of Nigerian loot? Well, the answer is that it was a different type of e-mail. That e-mail meant enamel, as in the glossy paint applied to metal, pottery, etc. In French, the word émailler still means "to enamel," not to send out a message using electronic mail. The word mail in electronic mail is of Germanic origin, meaning a bag."

Read the rest of the article by Anu Garg and subscribe to his column, On Words with Anu Garg.

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