What is a “fax” – Definition, usage, synonyms, and origin

LAST UPDATE: July 29th, 2017

A fax is a document that is transmitted between two fax machines.

It can also be used as a verb meaning the action of transmitting a document between two fax machines.

It can also be used as a shortened form of “fax machine.”


According to the Oxford Dictionaries, “fax” is defined as:


1. An exact copy of a document made by electronic scanning and transmitted as data by telecommunications links.

‘we got a three-page fax from her assistant’

1.1. [mass noun] The production or transmission of faxes.
‘he received the report by fax’
1.2. A machine for transmitting and receiving faxes.

‘the equipment consists of four word processors, a fax, and a photocopier’

Send (a document) by fax.

‘please fax the agreement to me’

1.1 Contact (someone) by fax.

‘to obtain a brochure fax the agent’

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary “fax” is defined as:

1:facsimile 2

2:  a device used to send or receive facsimile communications

3:  a facsimile communication


Top synonyms of “fax” according to Thesaurus.com are “copy,” “transmission,” and “duplicate.”

Etymology (origin)

Merriam-Webster lists the origin of the word “fax” as “shortening & alteration” with the first known use as 1937.

The Oxford dictionaries list the origin of the word “fax” as “abbreviation of facsimile” with the first known use in the 1940s.

A search of the Google Ngram Viewer shows that the term “fax” heavily entered popular language in the 1980s.

Google’s Ngram viewer shows a number of mentions of “fax” as early as the 1600s. Every one of the mentions before the early 1900s that we’ve looked through can be attributed to:

  • an quote from a foreign language
  • a misspelling (or mis-scanned) of the word “fox”
  • a word being hyphenated because of the end of a line, and a syllable is carried over to the next line (with words such as ‘Halifax’ or ‘Fairfax’)
  • the proper use of the word “fax,” however in the context of contact information for a publishing company that and published a more recent version of a very old book.

Fax, facsimile, telefax, telefacsimile, or telecopier?

Fax, facsimile, telefax, telefacsimile, and telecopier can all be used interchangeably.

A facsimile can mean the exact same as the other terms, and it can also mean a copy or exact reproduction that is not sent over a distance.