Well, in my quest to continue writing about words, and researching the origins of them, today as I opened my dictionary the random word I stopped at was ‘postmark.‘ When I think of this word I think of mail and letters. Letters are very important to me and have been for maybe more than ten years now. That’s because I have international pen pals … yes! Pen pals? Like who does that these days? *Raises hand.*
I have enjoyed the art of handwritten letters sent far and wide around the world, for more than a decade. Some people I have and still do exchange letters with, I have never even met! We have seen a picture of each other, and in some cases I have two pen pals that I have never seen. All we know is each other’s gender, race, age, location in the world and that is all. The rest we have learned about each other via letter exchanges.
I started by just joining a community of people who love stationery and letter writing, then I was matched with actual pen pals. I used Geek Girls Pen Pals this is a service where you sign up with your email and interests, by the middle of the following month you are matched with another pen pal who could be anywhere in the world! Really great service. So, back to today’s word ‘postmark’.
How I Have Used This Word?
When I wrote my first mystery novel The Note I used letters and notes as a way to drive the story forward. The letters also did not show a distinct ‘postmark’ which made it hard for both of my detectives to trace where they have come from. Other than this as a fiction writer the word ‘postmark’ has not been a major factor in my work, but letters, letter sending, or writing them via my character have always been! I seem to have a ‘thing’ with driving my plots forward with notes, diary entries, or actual letters. Be it from decades ago and relevant to the characters in the present day, or vice-versa.
Should Letter Writing Be A Regular Thing? Or is Technology Better?
If you ask me, yes! Letter writing is so therapeutic it can really help you to express what you feel, in that moment, or historically based on the past in a clear way. This could be relevant to diary writing. But in terms of writing a hand written letter to a friend, family member, or a pen pal you have never met I would still say, yes. I think that letter writing helps to keep literacy levels high! Obviously, and it also encourages deeper communication with a person. This is because you are actually thinking about what you are writing in more detail, than when you write a text, email, or social media post. This is my experience with it anyway. Letter writing can also help you to form some wonderful long-lasting friendships, with people you would not have met otherwise. I also have found over the years that letter writing builds a slower form of friendship, because you are not having a real time conversation, you need to wait for your response. The result of this has been for me some deep and meaningful connections with others.
I also really love the thrill of going to my mailbox and seeing a letter with an international stamp on, knowing it has travelled miles to get to me, and the sender as taken some of their own precious time to sit and communicate with me.
Is it better than technology?… mmm, no I would not say it is. This could be because I have grown up in the era when social media and the Internet was birthed. I have seen how helpful, quick, and useful it is. Especially for things like research, or even just trying to find your way to a location you have never been before, using Google Maps rather than a traditional map. That said, I do feel that traditional letter writing and communication that comes with a traceable postmark and technology to communicate both serve different purposes. I would not say that one is better than the other, as they are (for me) used for different reasons and at different times.
Where Does the Word ‘Postmark’ Come From?
Well, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary this word means:
“Mark or stamp of a post office placed on a letter, etc., giving the place and date of sending.”
According to the Oxford English Dictionary:
Noun: “an official mark stamped on letter or parcel, giving the date of posting and cancelling the postage stamp.”
Verb: ” To stamp a letter or parcel with a post mark.”
It became an official word in around 1670, and is taken from the words post and mark.
[mail system] c. 1500, “riders and horses posted at intervals,” it was used to refer to messages being sent back and forth, using what we now refer to as a mail system. Clearly around 1500 this was all done by horse using people as the messengers. Riders would ‘post’ on their route, meaning to drop off the messages. The word postmark was also probably fashioned on the French word poste, around the 1500’s which literally does translate to ‘post’ in English.
The meaning “system for the conveyance of letters” is from 1660s. From the 1590s this related to the use of a vehicle to send messages back and forth. From the 1670s is was referred to as “a dispatch of letters from or to a place.” From the 1680’s this is when the word related to newspapers.
“Trace, impression,” from Old English mearc (West Saxon), merc (Mercian). A “boundary, limit; sign, landmark,” it came from Proto-Germanic *markō (source also of Old Norse merki “boundary, sign,” mörk “forest,” which often marked a frontier; Old Frisian merke, Gothic marka “boundary, frontier,” Dutch merk “mark, brand,” German Mark “boundary, boundary land”).
This word which came together from two other words is one that can be used in so many ways, from writing fiction based on the postmark of a letter or note, it can be used to identify the location of something or someone, and it can be a source of joy to see when a letter arrives in the mail. Much more so than when you see a letter that has a local postmark and you know it is a bill for something that needs to be paid! Whenever I get bunch of mail and mixed in with all the bills to pay is a letter with a postmark for a location hundreds or even thousands of miles, away it does brighten up my day.
What was the postmark of the last letter you received? Where did it come from?
What was the last letter you received was it a bill, or something personal and nice?
Do you write letters, have pen pals? Have you ever considered it?
Do you send traditional post cards, or birthday cards still?