Snail mail or smail (from snail + mail)—named after the snail with its slow speed—refers to letters and missives carried by conventional postal delivery services. The phrase refers to the lag-time between dispatch of a letter and its receipt, versus the virtually instantaneous dispatch and delivery of its electronic equivalent, e-mail.
It is also known, more neutrally, as paper mail, postal mail, land mail, or simply mail or post. An earlier term of the same type is surface mail, coined retrospectively after the development of airmail. This happened not too long ago, between the 1970s to 1990s.
Snail mail is also a term used in reference to penpalling. Snail mail penpals are those penpals that communicate with one another through the postal system, rather than on the internet which has become the more common medium.
Some online groups also use paper mail through regular gift or craft hot topics. In some countries, services are available to print and deliver emails to those unable to receive email, like people with no computers or internet access.
Similar terminology was used in the 1840s to contrast the already-operating postal mail with the new telegraph. The Philadelphia North American stated: "The markets will no longer be dependent upon snail paced mails".
According to Merriam-Webster, the first use of the term "snail mail" was in 1983. The phrase was in existence for decades earlier, but meaning slow mail as opposed to meaning human delivered mail. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the old system of delivering mail was referred to as snail mail in 1983 as a comparison to electronic mail (email) begun in 1982. 
Use in history 
The term was used by the U.S. Post Office in magazine advertising in the mid to late 1960s to encourage use of zip codes. Ads for zip code use appeared in many issues of "LOOK", "Life", and, "Saturday Evening Post" magazines and displayed a caricature of a large snail outfitted as a letter carrier, with the term "Snail Mail" in bold lettering.
In 1974, the term was used to describe second-class mail which took longer to arrive than first class mail.
See also 
- Balloon mail
- Carrier pigeon/Pigeon post
- E-mail letter
- Message in a bottle
- Pony express
- Sneaker net
- Cognitive English grammar, by Günter Radden, René Dirven, p. 4
- Howe, Daniel Walker, "What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815–1848", Oxford University Press, 2007.
- "Snail mail". Merriam Webster. Retrieved 2012-02-07.
- "E-mail". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 2012-02-07.
- "Snail Mail". Lowell Sun (page 43). April 29, 1942.
- CAB Informed About Isolation of Youngstown and Columbus p. 2; Youngstown Vindicator ; February 21, 1951
- Post Office Considers Ways to Worsen Service ; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; p. 12; April 28, 1969
- British Postal Service hit by staff shortage; Regina Leader-Post; p. 51; June 7, 1974
- "IP: Rutt Report #1 - An Introduction". Interesting-people.org. Retrieved 2012-11-26.
- "Lifeboat Foundation Bios: Jim Rutt". Lifeboat.com. Retrieved 2012-11-26.
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