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Once "email"* entered the lexicon, we needed a term to differentiate it from what we can call regular, hand-delivered mail. One term in broad usage is "snail mail." But in a project I'm working on, we need a term that is more formal and businesslike.

As currently written, the copy reads: "Terrestrial mail."

I'm looking for a good term to replace "Terrestrial." Any ideas?

(*AP Stylebook has eliminated the hyphen.)

3
  • 4
    does terrestrial mail excludes air mail?
    – Lie Ryan
    Dec 3, 2011 at 12:30
  • I feel "paper mail" is much better than "postal mail". Paper mail rarely goes by "the post" these days. It's either a courier service, or, you very likely mean some sort of intra-office thing.
    – Fattie
    Jun 14, 2015 at 12:56
  • is it possible you're looking for "written confirmation" or "in writing" ? (I realise it can be ambiguous with email!)
    – Fattie
    Jun 14, 2015 at 12:57

10 Answers 10

32

Postal mail is the usual term when one needs to be formal. "Terrestrial mail" is not in use and would likely cause at least some confusion.

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  • 1
    This may be an acceptable term. I fully understand the remarks above, that "mail" in and of itself should be sufficient. However, we have two major operations - one involving email and one concerning snail mail, and it is necessary to sharply mark the difference. Any possibility of confusion needs to be eliminated. Thank you for your answer.
    – The Raven
    Dec 2, 2011 at 19:50
  • 2
    @TheRaven: This should do it, then; no one would think of email when they read "postal mail" or snail mail when they read "email". It would also be possible to describe them as "by post" and "by email" but that might introduce slight confusion for some Americans.
    – Charles
    Dec 2, 2011 at 19:59
  • In Australia I've never heard postal mail. It does get 5 million Google hits for the whole world, but when restricting the search to just Australia gets only 150k hits, the first of which at least seems really strange to me: "Know how to manage your postal mail online like Mail 2 Email Redirection, ..." Dec 8, 2011 at 10:18
  • @hippietrail: What terms are common in Australia when differentiating from email?
    – Charles
    Dec 8, 2011 at 20:07
  • @Charles: I haven't been aware of any non-IT type people trying to differentiate yet and I'm not in Australia right now to keep an ear out, sorry. Dec 16, 2011 at 13:02
8

Simply "mail" by itself may be sufficient. If you need to specifically reference physical mail delivered by the Post Office then "Postal Mail" may be preferable.

8

It may be the case that postal mail is a formal term; I don't know if it is or isn't, but clearly it suffers from redundancy and ambiguity, and is used less commonly than regular mail.

Alternatives such as regular mail, physical mail, paper mail, and surface mail all have been used, as shown by a 1995-2008 ngrams for "snail mail,postal mail,regular mail,surface mail,air mail,paper mail,physical mail": enter image description here

Every one of the terms has problems: postal mail, redundancy and ambiguity (does it mean threatening notes?); regular mail, ambiguity (does it mean email or paper mail?); physical mail, clumsy; paper mail, informal; surface mail, inexact (more paper mail goes by air nowadays). Physical mail is the only one of these terms increasing in use at the moment, but still is least used.

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    I thought "surface mail" was a term specifically invented in opposition to airmail, back when airmail was a new and exciting thing.
    – Random832
    Dec 2, 2011 at 21:21
  • I don't know the etymology of "surface mail"; you might be right; in any case, I recall the term being used, rightly or wrongly, to distinguish snailmail and email when email was new. Dec 2, 2011 at 21:53
  • 3
    In a world where email is sent much more often than postal mail, I'm sure there will be people, especially younger ones, that would assume that "regular mail" is "email"
    – Lie Ryan
    Dec 3, 2011 at 12:32
  • 2
    "postal mail" might be redundant in the world where only "postal service" provides mailing service. But nowadays when Internet also provides mailing service, IMO it is no longer redundant.
    – Lie Ryan
    Dec 3, 2011 at 12:36
  • 1
    why is paper mail informal?
    – Fattie
    Jun 14, 2015 at 12:57
2

The term I immediately thought of is "postal service".

I've never heard it used to cover electronic mail and it scores higher in Google Ngrams than all the other terms, and it wasn't a newly invented term after the rise of e-mail. Also, it's perfectly formal.

ngram

One minor drawback is that it surely won't work as a drop-in replacement in all possible uses.

1

Just mail for the same reason there's no such place as East Virginia.

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  • 1
    Now I have a new name for my next Daughter!
    – user179700
    Dec 3, 2011 at 0:33
  • 4
    @user179700: "snail mail" or "East Virginia"?
    – Kris
    Dec 3, 2011 at 10:58
  • Snail Mail if it is a girl, Snail Male if a boy.
    – user179700
    Dec 16, 2011 at 6:39
1

I suggest traditional mail, which nobody said. Anyway… I like physical, postal, or just plain old ‘mail’.

Don't overthink it. Simplicity is a big part of writing good copy. Just be direct and consistent across the text. Your reader will understand. Creating artificial verbiage to "sound formal" (i.e. convey authority) usually has the opposite effect.

1

In Canada, we use the terms lettermail (or letter mail).

Which is technically, Lettermail™, a trademark owned by Canada Post

I've added a Google trends chart (Covers 30 days) and on average it is outperformed by postal mail, but does hold its own. 30 day trend (Canada)

Letter mail split into two words is even more popular, but it's not clear if this includes results with both words separately, like in "how to mail a letter" 30 day trend (Canada)

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  • 1
    How frequently? It's a term used by the USPS as well (two words), just not that common outside of the postal service. Novel answer to this question.
    – livresque
    Sep 30, 2021 at 23:37
  • Apparently frequently enough, if Google web search trends are any indicator
    – Tantelope
    Sep 30, 2021 at 23:50
0

For the exclusive purpose of distinguishing from email, you could probably use conventional mail. I am of course, aware that email is already quite the conventional mail today!

However, the common idea of that phrase is such that it still evokes images of postal, courier and other modes of physical delivery (you might have already considered physical as well), including surface, air and sea mail.

1
  • Or old-fashioned mail. Dec 8, 2011 at 10:14
0

One way of avoiding the ambiguity is to use the proper name of the country's postal service. If one is speaking of sending something from the UK, one can thus say that it will be sent 'by Royal Mail'; if it is to be sent from the US, one can say that it will be sent 'by the USPS'. These terms have the additional advantage of distinguishing such services from those provided by the companies such as DHL or UPS (although that may be a disadvantage, if one wants a term that encompasses all of them, and puts them in contrast to e-mail). They also, obviously, cannot be used in a context that is intended to cover sending things from a number of different countries.

Another way of avoiding the problem is to just use the term mail and then use the term hardcopy in the characterisation of what is sent. If one says 'We will send you a hardcopy of the document by mail', it will be perfectly clear that the mail that is referred to is not e-mail.

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I think that the answers were given by others, above. However, if you want to use a similarly silly word to "terrestrial," in relation to "mail," try tellurian, telluric, terrene, gaian, hyperchthonic (my coinage). Are you writing about mail on Earth as opposed to intergalactic, extraterrestrial mail?

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  • 2
    You forgot sublunar! Dec 8, 2011 at 10:14

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