Most people use “ZIP code” and “postal code” interchangeably but they’re not the same. ZIP code as many English commonly used words is a brand. Actually it was a brand since it has expired. The New Oxford American Dictionary doesn’t even recognize it as a servicemark but simply as “a postal code consisting of five or nine digits”. The term though cannot be used that broadly…
The term cannot be used that broadly, for any postal code containing 5 or 9 digits, but only for the US postal code system. That’s it: ZIP code (or zip code) is the postal code system of Uncle Sam’s land.
ZIP stands for Zoning Improvement Plan and was at its release a service mark (like a trademark but for services) in the US. USA’s beautiful neighbor, Canada, doesn’t have any special brand or term for postal code. Their pattern is very different from the US: they use 6 alphanumerical (i.e. numbers and letters mixed) characters as opposed to the 5 numbers used in ZIP codes.
Let me talk a bit about postal code systems.
Postal code is any code used by a country’s postal service to identify locations and sort things to be delivered. Most countries use numbers only postal codes, few exceptions are Canada, Argentina and the UK that use alphanumerical codes. Some countries use short ones as Iceland that has a 3 digit postal code. Countries like Angola, Congo and The Bahamas don’t use any code at all.
Brazil, the country I was born, uses 8 digits in its postal code (which is called CEP). The last 3 digits are separated by a hyphen and if you forget that some websites will warn you by saying the CEP is invalid.
CEP stands for Código de Endereçamento Postal (Postal Addressing Code).
I’ve found some interesting curiosities about postal codes and Santa Claus:
- In Finland the code 99999 is for Korvatunturi, the place where Santa Claus is said to live.
- In Greenland the postal code 2412 is for Julemanden (Santa Claus).
- In Canada the amount of mail sent to Santa Claus increased a lot so Canada Post/Postes Canada decided to start an official Santa Claus letter-response program. Approximately one million letters come in to Santa Claus each Christmas, including from outside of Canada, and all of them are answered in the same languages in which they are written, including Braille. Canada Post made a complete address for “Santa Claus”:
- Santa Claus
H0H 0H0 (ho, ho, ho – the postal code)
- Santa Claus
How about the countries you’ve lived? Which kind of postal code do they use? Do they have a special name for it?