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

LAST UPDATE: March 5th, 2018

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

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

It can also be 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 an “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 the popular language in the 1980s.

Google’s Ngram viewer shows some mentions of “fax” as early as the 1600s. Every one of the mentions before the early 1900s that we’ve looked through attribute to:

  • a quote from a foreign language
  • a misspelling (or poor scan) 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 an old book.

Fax, facsimile, telefax, telefacsimile, or telecopier?

The terms fax, facsimile, telefax, telefacsimile, and telecopier are all interchangeable.

A facsimile can mean the same as the other terms, and it can also mean a copy or exact reproduction.

Sources and more resources

  • WikipediaFax – Wikipedia’s entry on the fax.
  • Fax AuthorityGlossary – Our Glossary. Includes all types of terms related to fax.
  • Oxford Dictionariesfax – The entry in the Oxford Dictionaries on “fax.” Includes word origin and pronunciation.
  • Dictionary.comfax – The entry in Dictionary.com on “fax.” Includes word origin and terms such as “facts” and “FAQs” that are sometimes confused with the term.
  • Collins Dictionaryfax – The entry in the Collins Dictionary on “fax.” Includes word origin, pronunciation, word history, and translations for the term.