Common usage in the UK is that a postman of the Royal Mail Service delivers the post, and someone may post a letter (see BrE Ngram), whereas in the USA, usage has become equally common that a mailman of the United States Post Office delivers the mail (AmE Ngram). Why do both forms of English have the same two words and have parallel but reversed inconsistencies between the name of the Service and the objects manipulated by that Service? And what do Canadians do? (There's no "Canadian English" option in Ngram!)

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    Etymonline says "In 19c. England, mail was letters going abroad, while home dispatches were post." Commented Aug 10, 2014 at 15:51
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    I think someone needs to answer Nancy's question, why the "parallel ("reversed") inconsistences between the name of the Service and the objects manipulated by that Service" ...?
    – Fattie
    Commented Aug 10, 2014 at 16:33
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    @tchrist -- hey! re the locality delusion: your comment seems a little belittling. Please be gentle with a newbie. I'm very widely read, so I'm not sure what the basis for my lack of awareness of the frequency of "post" in the US, but my observation was largely correct about the UK.
    – N.A.Neff
    Commented Aug 10, 2014 at 16:45
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    @tchrist: It may be "just one of those things", but I still think the question is worth asking (the underlying "Why is there any US/UK difference at all?", not the "Why are the US/UK meanings reversed?" misapprehension). I myself am surprised to find that according to NGrams, mailbox was far more common than postbox even in BrE 50 years ago (I almost always put my letters in the postbox, and it's disconcerting to think most of my fellow countrymen have been using mailbox throughout my life without me even noticing). Commented Aug 10, 2014 at 16:55
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    There's a huge problem in using ngrams here, as we're talking about spoken language. ngrams are admirable, but of no value or relevance in any way for spoken language; indeed they sometimes cause confusion.
    – Fattie
    Commented Aug 10, 2014 at 17:00

1 Answer 1


I feel the consensus opinion is that

(1) it's possibly/probably true that "mail" is used more - in general - in the USA than in Britain. I really feel that's about all you can say about usage in bre/ame in this case.

(2) the specific, clean 'reversal' you point out (mail/post on one side, post/mail on the other) is probably spurious; it does not exist.

(3) it's very unlikely there would be a clean explanation of any difference in usage of the words; fwiw nobody at hand has one or could find one :O

I fear that's it!

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    OED says of the relevant verb sense for mail trans. orig. U.S. To send by post, to post. Also with in, off, out. The more usual word in the United Kingdom is post. It also says that particular usage derives from the noun sense A bag, pack, or wallet; a travelling bag, a portmanteau. In later use Sc. and U.S. in pl.: baggage (a definition which was previously unknown to me until I've just looked it up). Commented Aug 10, 2014 at 17:43
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    @FumbleFingers Being serious (as we should be) I suspect the UK side of things is firmly in the two terms. "Mail" is letters and stuff, hence The Royal Mail is The Kings letters and stuff. "Post" is the process of delivery, hence Postmaster General, postman, postage and post-haste.
    – Frank
    Commented Aug 10, 2014 at 18:17
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    You know I really fear that, for example, what you say there Frank - it's a bit of a "reach" on this one you know? It's just not that clear cut. Also, I just dunno that I am with the OED on "The more usual word in the United Kingdom is post" - similarly. Word usage change so dramatically (wot with this modern TV and stuff). I mean I bet 50% of people in the UK now say "officer" to a constable when they get stopped up for speeding, you know. It's a big mish-mash.
    – Fattie
    Commented Aug 11, 2014 at 6:53

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