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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a law, ordinance, etc., that has lost its force but has not been formally repealed or abolished.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
Historical Examples
  • Everything in the world which must be felt with a glow in the breast, in order to be understood, was to him dead-letter.

    Emerson and Other Essays John Jay Chapman
  • System, punctuality, industry, belong to the dead-letter Office.

  • If we expect a letter to reach its destination we put a stamp on it; otherwise it goes to the dead-letter Office.

    In Answer to Prayer W. Boyd Carpenter
  • If people do not steal our horses the reward is a dead-letter.

    Nevermore Rolf Boldrewood
  • The letter was returned to him from that cemetery of many a dear hope, the dead-letter office.

    An Ambitious Man Ella Wheeler Wilcox
  • But the most exciting day of all was when they visited the dead-letter Office.

  • There is a dead-letter office, and the lists are published monthly at the presses of El Cubano Libre.

    The Arena Various
  • Formal, elaborate, dead-letter theology must go, to let in—Religion.

    The Promise of Air Algernon Blackwood
  • In a newspaper which reached the dead-letter Office were found four sovereigns, and in another a gold locket.

    The Royal Mail James Wilson Hyde
  • The edict remained a dead-letter, for there was no power to enforce it.

    History of Holland George Edmundson
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a law or ordinance that is no longer enforced but has not been formally repealed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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