What is the full form of “fax”? (what is fax short for?)

LAST UPDATE: March 6th, 2020

Fax is the short form of “fax machine,” “facsimile,” “telefax,” and “telefacsimile.” It is a printed copy of a document or picture sent over a phone line.

Google ngram chart of the use of the terms "fax machine," "facsimile machine," "telefax," and "telefacsimile" from 1970 to 2005.
“Fax machine” became the more popular term around 1987. Before that,”telefax,” “facsimile machine,” and “telefacsimile” were more popular terms. All these terms have, at some time, been the full form of the word “fax.”

“Fax” is a shortened form of”Fax Machine”

Many people use “fax” as a shortened form of “fax machine.”

“Fax” can be:

  • The act of sending a fax document (e.g. “send the fax to the office”).
  • The fax document itself (e.g. “pass me the fax that came in”).
  • A physical fax machine (e.g. “it’s over there by the fax”).

“Fax machine” refers only to the physical fax machine.

“Facsimile” is the full form of “fax”

The original definition of “facsimile” is “an exact copy or replica.”

The clipping of “facsimile” to “fax” is a simple transition as the “c” in “facsimile” is pronounced like a “k.”

Google ngram chart of the use of the term "fax" and "facsimile" in the english language from 1800 to 2005.
“Facsimile” was a commonly used term in the English language in regards to a replica or copy. The term “Fax” came into popularity in the mid-1980s.
Although the chart shows the term “fax” existed earlier, it was not in use. When we look at individual citations, it appears to be only in use for a book from that time that is republished later with a publisher’s fax number.

Common definitions of “facsimile” include a noun (an exact copy of a book, painting, or manuscript) and a verb (to reproduce in facsimile).

Google ngram chart of the use of the terms "fax machine" and "facsimile machine" in english language books from 1940 to 2005.
The term “facsimile machine” was used more often than “fax machine from 1975 to 1987. From 1987 onward “fax machine” became the far more popular term.

“Telefax” and “Fax” are a shortened form of “Telefacsimile”

The prefix “tele-” means “over a distance.” Words such as “telephone” (sound over a distance) and “television” (vision over a distance) use it.

Other “tele-” words include “telautographs” (signatures over a distance) and “telephotographs” (photographs over a distance).

Screenshot of Google ngram chart of the popularity of the words "telefacsimile," "teleautograph," and "telephotograph" from 1870 to 2005.
Along with “telefacsimile,” the “teleautograph” (signatures over a distance) and “telephotograh” (photographs over a distance) were other terms used in distance communication technology.

“Telefax” and “Telefacsimile” have been shortened to “fax.” This shortening is part of a trend in language, as seen with other words such as “telephone”to “phone” and “television” to “tv.”

Screenshot of a Google ngram chart of the use of the terms "phone" and "telephone" in english language books from 1870 to 2005.
The term “telephone” was more popular than “phone” until about 1989. Terms using the “tele-” prefix appear to have been replaced by by shortened forms in the late 1980s.

“Telefax” is a full form of “fax”

The word “telefax” appears to have entered language very soon after “telefacsimile.”

Like “facsimile,” the shortening likely happened as the “c” in “facsimile” is pronounced like a “k.”

“Telefax” appears to be a shortened form of “telefacsimile” that kept the “tele” but shortened “facsimile.”

Google ngram chart of the use of the terms "telefax" and "telefacsimile" in english language books from 1940 to 2000.
The word “telefacsimile” was more popular in the English language until 1987 when “telefax” overtook it.
The blip for “telefax” in the early 1950s appears to come from books that were later re-published with the term “telefax” in them in the context of the publisher’s contact information.

Backronyms

Many acronyms have been attributed to fax. Most of them incorrectly involve Xerox. Acronyms such as “far away Xerox” or “facsimile automated Xerox” are likely “backronyms,” or acronyms applied to an existing word after it had already entered the language.

Sources and more resources