Wednesday, February 11, 2009
The origin of the word "blackmail" had nothing to do with the post office as many might think. Mail in this sense was old Anglo Norse term for "rent" or "tribute". During the time of border warfare between England and Scotland, freebooters exorted payment from farmers in exchange for protection and immunity from plunder. As the inhabitants were generally poor, the tribute was made in "blackmail", "that is, grain, meat, or the lowest colnage (copper)", as opposed to "white mail", "which was silver". Eventually the word took on the meaning of any payment extorted by the threat of exposure of an incriminating secret.