For a while I thought "first class" was used to express a better service for a higher price. For example the first class seats in a train or a plane.

Naturally for a long time I came to believe the same meaning is carried over for mailing and postal services. However this seems to be misleading and doesn't appear to be the case.

Is there a general shared meaning agreed upon for the word "first class" or "first" when it comes to mail, maybe even a legal meaning, or is it some kind of non-standard word with no clear implications for which I need to carefully read the description on the postal service that uses such a term?

  • When I lived in Britain you could buy a first class stamp which in those days was supposed to provide a faster delivery service. Perhaps they still have that service. A first class seat on a train plane or bus usually costs more and gives you more comfort and space.Generally speaking, if this expression is applied to a service then you are supposed to get a better service.
    – user242899
    Dec 29 '17 at 20:51
  • 2
    Can you provide more context, why do you think "First Class" is not the right expression. What do you think it does mean?
    – James K
    Dec 30 '17 at 0:44
  • This really isn't a language question, because it asks about nomenclature (first class) used by a business that does not hold a literal meaning.
    – user3169
    Dec 30 '17 at 1:19
  • @user3169 In my leaning process of English I've associated the word "first" with its equivalent meaning in French, along with a bag of words that might fit the meaning such as "privileged", "expensive", "winner", "leader", "important"... but recently the more I read conversations and comments with this word, the more I see it associated with the meanings "cheap", "entry level" especially in the context of mail, which I don't recall associating in French at all. I was wondering if there is a implied meaning of the word "first" in some contexts I need to be aware of in English.
    – Hay
    Dec 30 '17 at 13:39

No, I think you have it right. First class mail is what most people use for ordinary postal services, like mailing packages. First-class mail has priority over lower-class mail services.

At least in the US, delivery of newspapers and magazines used to be called "second-class" mail (now called "Periodical Mail"), and bulk advertising "third-class" mail (now called "Marketing Mail". In addition there is "Priority Mail" which is more expensive and tracked, and (sometimes) faster than "First-Class Mail".

USPS Classes of Mail

In general, if you see something advertised as "first-class" then there ought to be a "second-class" option available. Of course many businesses call themselves "first-class" as a meaningless marketing ploy.

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