Student Dictionary

One entry found for blackmail.
Main Entry: black·mail
Pronunciation: primarystressblak-secondarystressmamacrl
Function: noun
Etymology: from black (the color) and mail "rent, payment," from Old English mamacrl "agreement," of Norse origin
1 : the act of forcing a person to do or pay something especially by a threat to reveal a secret
2 : something (as money) obtained through blackmail
- blackmail verb
- black·mail·er noun
Word History The word blackmail has no connection at all with the postal system. In the 16th and part of the 17th centuries, the area along the border between England and Scotland was not usually protected by the officials on either side. Landholders were beset not only by outlaws but also by their own chieftains, who told them that in return for payment they would not be raided. In Scotland mail means "payment, rent, tax," and at that time payment or rent was by custom referred to as "silver" or "white" when paid in coins. Because the robbers usually required payment in cattle or grain rather than money, their payment came to be called "black" mail.

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