Where does the term “blackmail” come from? Is it because the letters come through the mail or what!!!


This is spliced together from Wm & Mary Morris’s DICTIONARY OF WORD AND PHRASE ORIGINS and Eric Partridge’s ORIGINS.

The black element is pretty obvious, meaning sinful, bad, disheartening

The mail part has nothing to do with the post office. The word mail means “rent or tax” referring to the tribute demanded by and paid to freebooters along the Scottish border who demanded blackmail as the price for passage and freedom from molestation. Derived from Norse and Saxon words for agreement, especially at market.

Thanks CK Dext, I didnt expect an answer as quick as that, it was the mail part that was confusing!