phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

'Under separate cover'

Posted by Steve E on December 08, 2006

In Reply to: 'Under separate cover' posted by Smokey Stover on December 08, 2006

: : 'Under separate cover'

: : Many thanks, R.Berg, but I worded my question wrongly. I really wanted to know the history of the phrase e.g. what does the cover refer to?

: : Cheers,

: : Tintageu

: I would expect "the cover" to refer to whatever enclosed, or covered, the letter. I did not find "separate cover" in the OED; the closet I came was this.
: " d. The wrapper of a letter or of any postal packet. spec. in Philately, an envelope, etc., bearing a stamp, postmark, or label of particular historical or commemorative interest; esp. first day cover (see quot. 1950).
: Hence, to address to (a person) under cover to (another). In a general sense including an envelope (which is a special kind of cover); but spec. used of a wrapper cut and folded differently from an envelope, as in the 'Mulready covers'.
: 1748 RICHARDSON Clarissa Wks. 1883 IV. 374, I acknowledge her goodness to me, with a pencil only, on the cover of a letter sealed up. 1798 JANE AUSTEN Northang. Abb. II. xiii. 191 Direct to me at Lord Longtown's..under cover to Alice. 1804 PITT in G. Rose's Diaries II. 75, I send this under Hammond's cover to the Postmaster. 1876 World V. 11 The task of addressing the covers to the subscribers does not devolve upon him [the Editor]."

: It is possible that the concept long antedates the first example of "cover" given here. But I can't imagine how you would find the first person who
: used the phrase "separate cover."
: SS

The phrase "cover letter" comes to mind. That phrase was used very frequently in my younger days to mean (in a business environment) the letter that you typed when you sent out other documents to someone via the mail. For example, if you were sending out copies of contracts to be signed, you would prepare a "cover letter" to accompany those documents. I have not heard anyone in the younger generation where I work use the term at all. Could it be that the phrase "under separate cover" was originally "under separate cover letter" and over time it became shortened? For what it's worth.