'Blackmail?' said the villain, twitching a suave but deadly eyebrow. 'That's an ugly word.'
Despite those words having being spoken in almost every thriller made during the first thirty years of talkies, blackmail isn't a particularly ugly word.
Blackmail is certainly an ugly thing, but that's a different thing.
Mind you, blackmail used to be a different thing, too.
Blackmail started out in life as protection money. It was paid by the people of the English/Scottish Borders to the reivers in return for immunity from raids.
(Those riders are reivers on their way to raid a mediaeval family that hadn't paid its blackmail. I don't know where they are, not even which country they're in, because reivers were equally happy to raid homesteads on either side of the border.)
Anyway, why is it blackmail black? Well, the reason it's black is because it's not white. The white equivalent, 'white rent', was paid in money (silver); blackmail was paid in goods or labour.
Why is it mail? Male was the Middle English for rent or tribute.
So there we are. A shared culture of English and Scots criminality extending over hundreds of years.
Surely that's worth holding onto.
Word Not To Use Today: blackmail. If the word isn't derived as I've described above then it might be from the Scottish Gaelic words blathaich to protect and mal tribute, payment.