Word Play: Mail

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Next up on The World and Everything in It: Word Play with George Grant.

GEORGE GRANT, COMMENTATOR: I love reading letters. And, not just the letters addressed to me in the post. I love reading the letters of great men and women of the past. I have dozens of books in my library that catalog the correspondence of heroes like Samuel Rutherford, Thomas Chalmers, Charles Spurgeon, Andrew Bonar, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, and Teddy Roosevelt.

Alas, such books may be a dying breed—because mail itself is very nearly extinct. We moderns don’t often write letters anymore.

We text, we tweet, we ping, we Bing; we Instagram and Pinterest. But we don’t write letters. We blog, we Skype, we Vimeo, and we YouTube. We Google, we Dropbox, and we iCloud; we like, we friend, we follow; we yoo-hoo on Yahoo. We DM, we IM, and we SMS; we e-mail, we v-mail, we G-Mail; some of us even AOL … LOL. But rarely do we write letters—you know, with real paper, ink, envelopes and stamps.

Nearly gone are the days of the mail room, the mail call, and the mail bag—and with them the perfumed letters and the wax seal, the flourishes of handwriting, the long discourses, the outpouring of heart and soul and mind, in complete sentences, with actual paragraphs (remember those?), with something akin to proper grammar and syntax.

Mail is now largely reserved for catalogs, ads, coupons, and bills. There may be an occasional thank you note, wedding invitation, or Christmas card—but even those are becoming scarce.

We can trace the word mail, to an Old French term for a leather traveling bag or sack for keeping small articles of personal property. It was derived from malha, a Franklish word for a wallet, money bag, or haversack.

Similar terms crop up in Medieval Dutch, Anglo Saxon, and Old High German. By the middle of the 17th century the sense was extended to satchels full of letters. Soon, it became common parlance to use the term to describe the whole system of transmission and delivery.

Robert Michael Pyle has quipped, “I’ve always felt there is something sacred in a piece of paper that travels the earth from hand to hand, head to head, heart to heart.” Likewise, Susan Lendroth has said, “To write is human, to get mail: divine!”

And, you know, I think they’re right. So, however out of fashion it may be, I’m going to keep right on loving and sending and receiving mail.

For WORLD Radio, I’m George Grant.

(Photo/Creative Commons)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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