Postman or Mailman

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Postman or Mailman

Post by Stu »

For my undergraduate linguistics class, I show some of the different vocabulary, spellings and grammar of British and American English. Sometimes, this isn't as simple as it sounds. One of my linguistics students pointed out that one difference I mention is "postman" (UK) v "mailman" (US), so he asked why did an American, Karen Carpenter, sing a song called "Please, Mr Postman". I was stumped for an answer. So, to our American friends, can anyone answer that? Which term do you use? Or do you use both?
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Re: Postman or Mailman

Post by Jim »

For me, "mailman" is the more common term, but I'll use "postman" when it seems to sound better, or for humor such as a joking attempt to sound sophisticated. "Postman" seems either a bit of a Britishism or a bit archaic. Of course, both are a bit dated, now that the syllable "-man" has been robbed by many of its sexual inclusiveness.
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Re: Postman or Mailman

Post by pelmut »

In the U.K. we often use "Postie" to include the women who do the same job.  I have no idea how that would translate into American ("Mailie"? "Femailie"?)
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Re: Postman or Mailman

Post by Shilo »

It’s just one example of how we are separated by a common language. When a child I thought terms such as drugstore and sidewalk were Americanisms, only to discover they were actually old English terms. It seems that some terms have stayed the same when England moved on and vice versa
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Re: Postman or Mailman

Post by FranTastic444 »

I wonder how it came to be that kayak and canoe mean opposite things between UK and US?

I think faucet is another phrase that has largely died out in the UK (having once been a common term) but has persisted in the US.

Another example would be furlough, which was used many years back in the UK in a slightly different context, but had fallen out of use until recently.

Just recently on the ex-pat FaceBook page I frequent, someone was genuinely shocked when the medical examiner proclaimed (as the story teller was in the process of removing their clothes) "I'll just go and get a Johnny". Likewise, a woman walked off in disgust when my wife asked if she could stroke the woman's dog.
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Re: Postman or Mailman

Post by Stu »

Thanks for the information.

Regarding the gender thing, the word "postman" should actually include females as well. The suffix at the end, "man", is not a compound so much as a derivational morpheme meaning "person". That's why "postman" is normally pronounced /ˈpəʊstmən/ and not /ˈpəʊstmæn/. I think this message should have been made clear when the PC and feminist lobbies started to make an issue of the "" terms decades ago.
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Re: Postman or Mailman

Post by PatJ »

Interesting conversation here - so I will add my 2 cents.

I typically use Postman to refer to workers in the Post Office - behind the counter - selling stamps etc.
and Mailman to the workers going from door to door delivering mail in town,
and Mail Carrier to workers driving cars to deliver mail to people not living in town - farmers etc.

But then, I tend to pigeonhole things to keep them in rows and columns like any good accountant should.
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Re: Postman or Mailman

Post by moonshadow »

I think most locals in my region just refer to them as "the mail man" or "the mail lady" when the gender or sex of the postal worker is unknown, it seems "mail man" is the default.

Technically our house is served by what's known as a "rural route carrier" despite being only a mile outside of town. RRC's drive their own personal vehicles, usually operating the vehicle while situated in the passengers seat while the controls are on the left side.. they are a very common sight outside of cities and towns.

Our RRC actually seems to have what I'd call a "European jeep" as his steering wheel is actually on the right hand side of the vehicle.
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Re: Postman or Mailman

Post by Ralph »

I'm sure preference of "postman" vs. "mailman" is a regional thing, much like the numerous words Americans have to describe the grassy strip between lanes on a highway ("median", "traffic island", etc.), the tiny lobster-like creatures in shallow water ("crawdad" vs. "crayfish"), and so on

A lingustic student did an extensive survey back in 2013 mapping out a couple hundred different expressions that vary from region to region in the US - both in terms of different words used, and different pronunciations of the same word. Sadly the bulk of his work seems to have disappeared, but he has a few samples on his own page.

When the gender of the person delivering mail is unknown, or irrelevant, most people around here (midwest US) just say "mail carrier."
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Re: Postman or Mailman

Post by Happy-N-Skirts »

I have heard that in Australia, they are referred to as "post rider." Will your ozzies please confirm or tell us what you call them.
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Re: Postman or Mailman

Post by Fred in Skirts »

In my neck of the woods we call them #@&%$+*#$#. As they are so bad with getting the right mail to the right address. And are usually late in doing so.
I have had 9 different people in 3 years on my mail route, they just can't keep good people because the roads are so bad, mostly unpaved dirt roads since the farmers drive their equipment on them and if they were paved it would tare them up.
When I first moved to where I am currently living I had a very good mail person. If I did not pick up the mail for 2 or 3 days she would drive up into the woods to my house and check on me to make sure I was alright and had not had an accident or was sick. Now if I don't pick up the mail for a couple days they leave a note in the mail box and then hold mail until I go to the Post Office and pick up what had been held. Never bothering to check on me to see if I am OK.

Getting cars with the controls on the right side is not hard in the US. A lot of the rural carriers have them now. I never have understood what the Brits see in driving on the wrong side of the road.. :lol: :lol:
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Re: Postman or Mailman

Post by crfriend »

Offhand, I use both terms pretty much interchangeably, although I do have a preference for "putting something in the post" over "mailing something". Everybody around here knows both terms so there's no hindrance to communication.

The "non-sexist" formal term here in the US seems to be "letter carrier", and may actually be the title for the position.
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Re: Postman or Mailman

Post by Big and Bashful »

I call the postman "the postman", who a couple of days ago was a rather nice looking young girl, so she is the postman, I don't have a problem with that! When it comes to the person behind the counter in the Post Office, I call him Stephen.
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Re: Postman or Mailman

Post by partlyscot »

FranTastic444 wrote:
Fri Jul 10, 2020 12:11 pm
I wonder how it came to be that kayak and canoe mean opposite things between UK and US?
I think, and Wikipedia seems to back me up, that in the UK it is not uncommon to refer to a kayak as a canoe, but when talking about what the US would call a canoe, they would tend to call it a "Canadian Canoe" this partly because canoeing is not particularly popular there. Kayaking is getting to be more so, and I think there is more chance of them being called kayaks.

As far as the song is concerned, I think it is simply the way it works in the song. Sing it to yourself both ways.
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Re: Postman or Mailman

Post by Uncle Al »

A Canoe was based upon Native American crafted 1 or 2 person boats.
These were used on lakes and small rivers.
Canoe 2020-07-10.jpg
Where as Kayak was based on a Norwegian 1 or 2 person boat.
Used for rapid flowing waters or oceans.

Kayak 2020-07-10.jpg
The Canoe has a full length open top. Water can easily get into the boat.
The Kayak has a closed top, helping to keep water out of the boat.

I hope this helps :D

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