Usage and Grammar

Q. I work in a law office where they regularly use terms like “via e-mail” or “via the US mail.” I had been taught that “via” actually means “by way of” not “by means of.” In other words, we travel from one city to another city via a certain route; we send a message by e-mail. I realize that English usage is an evolutionary process and that common but otherwise incorrect grammar ultimately can become “correct.” Is that what has happened to via?

A. Any dictionary—even a Latin one—will tell you that “by means of” is one definition of “via.” You seem to be suggesting that words must be used literally in order to be used correctly, but it’s never been incorrect to use words figuratively. Even ancient writers of Latin understood that “road” or “way” can also mean “method,” and they used the word “via” accordingly.