Where Did the Word “Blackmail” Come From and How Did the Term For Extortion of Money Originate?

If there is “blackmail” then one would assume that there must be “white mail.”

Mail was a Scottish word for rent or tax, and during the reign of James I, taxes or mail were paid in silver, which, because of its color, was called “white mail.”

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, bandits along the Scottish border demanded protection money from the farmers.

Because black signified evil, this cruel extortion was called a black tax, or “blackmail.”

Blackmail is also a tribute formerly exacted in the north of England and in Scotland by freebooting chiefs for protection from pillage.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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