letter

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letters after (one's) name

A series of abbreviations indicating the various levels of higher education or military honors one has received, thereby denoting a presumed level of intelligence, wisdom, or respectability. I hate hanging out with your PhD colleagues—it seems like they'll only take you seriously if you have letters after your name. Those letters after your name do not prove your worth to me; in my eyes, you're still just a fool.
See also: after, letter, name

have letters after (one's) name

To have a series of abbreviations listed after one's name indicating one's levels of higher education or military honors, thereby denoting a presumed level of intelligence, wisdom, or respectability. I hate hanging out with your PhD colleagues—it seems like they'll only take you seriously if you have letters after your name.
See also: after, have, letter, name

French letter

slang A condom. Primarily heard in UK. I have a date tonight, so I need to make sure I have a French letter in my wallet.
See also: french, letter

dead letter

1. A letter that is unable to be delivered to the recipient or returned to the sender. The post office must destroy a dead letter if it can't be delivered or returned after a certain period of time.
2. An existing law or agreement that is no longer obeyed or enforced. The state's Sunday law is a dead letter as many stores open and conduct business on that day.
See also: dead, letter

Dear John letter

A letter sent, typically from a woman to a man, to end a romantic relationship. Mike was clearly upset when he received a Dear John letter from his girlfriend, Caroline. He thought their relationship was going well and didn't expect it to end so suddenly. Mail call was usually a happy time in the military barracks, except for the unlucky soldiers who got Dear John letters from their sweethearts back home.
See also: dear, john, letter

four-letter word

1. One of a handful of words with four letters that are considered profanity. Jimmy was suspended from school after the teacher heard him shout a number of four-letter words at his classmates. The move received its rating solely due to its high amount of four-letter words.
2. By extension, a word that has a positive or neutral connotation but that is treated as if it were highly negative. Such words do not have to literally contain four letters. Young people today seem to think "school" is a four-letter word. All they want to do is sit around and play video games all day. To most voters, "taxes" is a four-letter word.
See also: word

man of letters

A man who is well-versed in literature and related scholarly pursuits. As a man of letters, the professor could easily speak for hours on the works of Shakespeare.
See also: letter, man, of

woman of letters

A woman who is well-versed in literature and related scholarly pursuits. As a woman of letters, the professor could easily speak for hours on the works of Shakespeare.
See also: letter, of, woman

poison-pen letter

A letter that contains malicious statements or accusations about the recipient or another party. Shortly after announcing his candidacy, he received an anonymous poison-pen letter attacking his platform.
See also: letter

red-letter day

A very important or significant day. My college graduation was a real red-letter day for my whole family.

a bread-and-butter letter

A thank-you note to one's host. Now that you're back from your stay with Auntie Jean, be sure to write her a bread-and-butter letter.
See also: letter

dash a note off

To quickly write and send a message to one. At the very least, just dash a note off to Aunt Mildred and thank her for the gift.
See also: dash, note, off

with a capital (some letter)

1. In the most extreme form or degree. I am hungry with a capital H! Let's eat! No, it's not an emergency with a capital E. I can wait until the end of the day.
2. In the most typical, formal, or traditional form. When he talks about photography, he means with a capital H. He would never think to consider pictures taken on smartphones. Well, it's not literature with a capital L, but it's still a good story.
See also: capital

bread-and-butter letter

a letter or note written to follow up on a visit; a thank-you note. When I got back from the sales meeting, I took two days to write bread-and-butter letters to the people I met. I got sort of a bread-and-butter letter from my nephew, who wants to visit me next summer.
See also: letter

dash a note off

 and dash a letter off
to write a note or letter quickly and send it off. I have to dash this letter off, then I will be with you. I'll dash off a note to her.
See also: dash, note, off

dead letter

 
1. a piece of mail that is returned to the post office as both undeliverable and unreturnable. At the end of the year, the post office usually has bushels of dead letters. Some of the dead letters are opened to see if there is an address inside.
2. an issue, law, or matter that is no longer important or that no longer has force or power. His point about the need for education reform is a dead letter. It is being done now. This point of law is a dead letter since the last Supreme Court ruling on this matter.
See also: dead, letter

a Dear John letter

a letter a woman writes to her boyfriend telling him that she does not love him anymore. Bert got a Dear John letter today from Sally. He was devastated.
See also: dear, john, letter

red-letter day

Fig. an important or significant day. (From the practice of printing holidays in red on the calendar.) Today was a red-letter day in our history. It was a red-letter day for our club.

to the letter

exactly as instructed; exactly as written. I didn't make an error. I followed your instruction to the letter. We didn't prepare the recipe to the letter, but the cake still turned out very well.
See also: letter

bread-and-butter letter

A thank-you letter from guest to host. For example, Mother always had to remind the children to send Grandma a bread-and-butter note. [c. 1900]
See also: letter

crank letter

Also, crank call. An irrational, fanatical, or hostile letter or telephone call. For example, The office was flooded with mail, including a lot of crank letters, or Harriet was upset enough by the crank calls to notify the police. This expression employs crank in the sense of "irrational person." The first term dates from the mid-1900s, the variant from the 1960s.
See also: crank, letter

dead letter

1. 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]
2. 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]
See also: dead, letter

four-letter word

Any of several short English words that are generally regarded as vulgar or obscene. For example, No four-letter words are permitted in this classroom. This expression is applied mostly to words describing excretory or sexual functions. [First half of 1900s]
See also: word

letter of the law

The precise wording rather than the spirit or intent. For example, Since it was the first time he'd broken the rules, the school decided to ignore the letter of the law and just give him a warning . [Late 1500s]
See also: law, letter, of

poison-pen letter

A letter, usually anonymous, that makes malicious statements about the recipient or a third party. For example, She told the police about the poison-pen letters, but they said they couldn't pursue the matter . [Early 1900s]
See also: letter

red-letter day

A special occasion, as in When Jack comes home from his tour of duty, that'll be a red-letter day. This term alludes to the practice of marking feast days and other holy days in red on church calendars, dating from the 1400s. [c. 1700]

to the letter

Precisely, as in If you follow the directions to the letter, you can't go wrong. Letter here refers to the exact terms of some statement. [c. 1800]
See also: letter

a dead letter

If a law or agreement is a dead letter, people do not pay any attention to it, although it still exists. In this conflict, international humanitarian law is a dead letter. Note: A dead letter is a letter that the post office is unable either to deliver or to return to the sender, because it does not have the right addresses.
See also: dead, letter

the letter of the law

COMMON The letter of the law is the law's exact meaning rather than the general and more important principles on which it is based. The Home Office stuck to the letter of the law over the definition of dependants. Michael Brower says such transactions violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the law. Note: You usually use this expression to show disapproval.
See also: law, letter, of

to the letter

COMMON If you follow instructions, rules, or advice to the letter, you carry them out exactly in every detail. These chemicals can be dangerous, so follow the instructions to the letter. Even if that international agreement is followed to the letter, the ozone layer won't recover fully until the year 2060.
See also: letter

a red-letter day

A red-letter day is a day when something very important or exciting happens. Back in 1986 Jim had his first picture published in BBC Wildlife Magazine. `That was a real red-letter day for me!' he confesses. Note: In the past, important feast days and saints' days were printed in red in some calendars.

dead letter

1. n. a letter that cannot move through the post office because the addressee does not exist or because the address is wrong or illegible. (Standard English.) Every now and then they open the dead letters to see if they can figure out who they were meant for.
2. n. an issue that does not matter anymore. This contract is a dead letter. Forget it!
See also: dead, letter

Dear John letter

n. a letter a woman writes to her boyfriend in the military service telling him that she does not love him anymore. Sally sends a Dear John letter about once a month.
See also: dear, john, letter

red-letter day

n. an important day that might well be marked in red on the calendar. Today was a red-letter day in our history.

to the letter

To the last detail; exactly: followed instructions to the letter.
See also: letter