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I have received a parcel today, from Israel, and the box is branded "Israel Postal Authority".

In Hebrew the same body has the word "Reshut" in its name, a term I believe originated from the Hebrew word for "permission" (the postal authority is a governmental body, thus it got a permission from the government to do what it does). So I can see why "authority" was picked as a direct translation (it is a government authorised body). Similarly, Israel has "The Broadcast Authority".

I live in the UK, where we have the Royal Mail, or the British Broadcast Association, but I fail to think of a single business or body that has "authority" in its name. I can't help feeling "postal authority" being somewhat of totalitarian nature.

Is it just a bad translation, or is it common and sensible for bodies as such to carry "authority" in their name?

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    Such "authorities" exist in the U.S. The best known is probably the "Port Authority of New York and New Jersey", which was certainly not intended to be a totalitarian organization. The U.S. has "water authorities" as well. I don't know whether the word "authority" is used ever for such organizations in the UK, though. – Peter Shor Jul 30 '13 at 19:31
  • Thanks Peter, I suspected this has something to do with British/American usage. Could you please post your comment as an answer? I think it should be considered as such. – Izhaki Jul 30 '13 at 19:42
  • American English also uses "the authorities" to mean (generally) the police, so feeling the term has a "totalitarian" tone is not unreasonable. – Thomas Jul 30 '13 at 19:45
  • An easy googling shows that the UK has Civil Aviation Authority, Coal Authority, Horseracing Authority and many others. OTOH, surprisingly, there is no Israel Postal Authority. There used to be, but it has been transmogrified into the Israel Postal Company. The old Authority branded boxes are being used while supplies last. – n. 'pronouns' m. Jul 30 '13 at 22:10
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I live in the UK and have no problem with this use of authority.

The fact that it is not included in the formal name of an organisation, does not mean that the word "authority" cannot be used in a 'generic' sense to describe the purpose of an organisation.

I would say that the UK postal authority is Royal Mail (at least for the time being!).

We also have various electricity, water, and gas authorities, either nationally or regionally, who are responsible for the infrastructure, even though you may purchase your electricity, water, or gas from a different company.

We have British Telecom as the telecommunications authority, who again maintain the infrastructure, irrespective of who you pay your telephone bill to.

In any event, even if we didn't have such authorities in the UK, it would not mean that Israel cannot have a body known as their Postal Authority, because they and other countries may well have a more centralised organisational structure of utilities than the UK does.

  • Indeed, it seems quite a few bodies define themselves as regulator authorities (like Ofcom). I never noticed that until now. Still looks odd to me, but I take your word for it that there is nothing unusual about it. – Izhaki Jul 30 '13 at 20:12
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Authority (sense 3b): a governmental agency or corporation to administer a revenue-producing public enterprise - Merriam Webster

  • Thanks for this. While the definition is useful, some dictionary definitions are still odd in every day language. The issue I have is with the usage, not the definition of the word. – Izhaki Jul 30 '13 at 19:45
  • It's like "cheers" - defined as "good wishes on parting or ending a conversation", yet a lot of Americans would find its use odd. My question was - is it odd? – Izhaki Jul 30 '13 at 19:48
  • As an American I don't find it odd or hear authoritarian undertones. This is also not an obscure definition but one most are familiar with, which I think is true of "cheers" as well, incidentally. – GetzelR Jul 30 '13 at 19:57
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In the US, the term authority is used for governmental or quasi-governmental groups, one of the most common being port authorities which control and regulate docks and buildings associated with shipping. See, for example

Similarly, many jurisdictions use the term for public transportation entities

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