Denotation vs. Connotation

dead letter

a law, ordinance, etc., that has lost its force but has not been formally repealed or abolished.
a letter that cannot reach the addressee or be returned to the sender, usually because of incorrect address, and that is sent to and handled in a special division or department (dead-letter office) of a general post office.
Origin of dead letter
Related forms
dead-letter, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for dead letter
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Why, if they didn't accept it, it wouldn't be an election, it would be a dead letter and have no force at all.

    The American Claimant Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)
  • That's your letter back to you through the dead letter office, isn't it?

    The Manxman Hall Caine
  • Yet in not a few districts the law is a dead letter or the money grudgingly spent!

    New Ideals in Rural Schools George Herbert Betts
  • They remained as dead letter, and will, I think, so remain perpetually.

  • This law could not be carried out for the time being, but remained in existence as a dead letter, until later days.

British Dictionary definitions for dead letter

dead letter

a letter that cannot be delivered or returned because it lacks adequate directions
a law or ordinance that is no longer enforced but has not been formally repealed
(informal) anything considered no longer worthy of consideration
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Slang definitions & phrases for dead letter

dead letter

noun phrase

A matter no longer of concern or currency; a bygone issue (1663+)

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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Idioms and Phrases with dead letter

dead letter

An unclaimed or undelivered letter that is eventually destroyed or returned to the sender. For example, She moved without leaving a forwarding address, so her mail ended up in the dead letter office. [ c. 1700 ]
A statute or directive that is still valid but in practice is not enforced. For example, The blue laws here are a dead letter; all the stores open on Sundays and holidays. [ Second half of 1600s ]
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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