Wednesday, 29 July 2009

v-mail, e-mail and pee-mail

V-mail. Seems like a twenty-first century word. But it isn't. It's a word coined in the middle of the last century by the US military to describe a process of microfilming mail to and from military personnel.

The process, in which letters were written on special one-page sheets, originated in England. Microfilming letters lessened the weight of mail and made it possible for more efficient communication between military personnel and their families back home. A slide show at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum makes the process clear and shows the enormous difference in size between a pile of actual letters and the microfilmed copies.

But I've seen another use of the word V-mail. It's the title of a great little book I bought at the British Museum Shop, an intimate look at the everyday lives of Romans living at Vindolanda near Hadrian's Wall around the first century AD.

The tablets are small, thin pieces of wood and were used for letters, reports, lists or quick notes. The wooden slices were tied together in bundles. In the book there are all sorts of letters. I like the birthday invitation best:
Claudia Severa to her Lepidina greetings. On 11 September, for the day of the celebration of my birtuday, I give you a warm invitation to make sure that you come to us, it will make the day more enjoyable for me if you are present. Give my greetings to your Cerialis. My Aelius and my little son send him their greetings. I shall expect you.
I thought the letter from Severus to his slave was interesting, too.
Severus to his Candidus, greetings. Regarding the dish for the Saturnalia, I ask you to buy it at a price of four or six asses and radishes to the value of not less than 1/2 denarius. Farewell.
Next I wanted to find out who coined the word email. But I haven't been able to find out. If anyone knows, I'd love to hear from you. I did discover the history of that first email, but not who named it.

And pee-mail? Well, as any dog-blogger knows, that's how dogs leave messages for each other on any available surface as they take their humans for a walk. It sure slows down our daily walk as my dog scans the liquid deposits for interesting snippets of news.

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