Origins of Common Words - Blackmail

About the history, origins, and definitions of the common word blackmail.

UNCOMMON STORIES BEHIND COMMON WORDS

Blackmail - Its origin had nothing to do with the post office. Mail in this sense was an old Anglo-Norse term for rent or tribute. During the time of border warfare between England and Scotland, freebooters extorted payment from farmers of the area in exchange for protection and immunity from plunder. As the inhabitants were generally very poor, the tribute was paid in "black mail," that is, grain, meat, or the lowest coinage (copper), as opposed to "white mail," which was silver. In time the word took on the meaning of any payment extorted by threat of exposure of an incriminating secret.

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