dead letter

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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
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.

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
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

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
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

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
Collins COBUILD Idioms Dictionary, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2012

a dead letter

a law or practice no longer observed.
This phrase was originally used with reference to passages in the biblical epistles in which St Paul compares the life-giving spirit of the New Testament with what he sees as the dead ‘letter’ of the Mosaic law. Later (until the late 19th century) Dead-letter Office was the name given to the organization that dealt with unclaimed mail or mail that could not be delivered for any reason. The expression has been used metaphorically for an obsolete or unobserved law since the mid 17th century.
1998 Spectator They were saying on the news…that some provision of the Stormont agreement might end up a dead letter.
See also: dead, letter
Farlex Partner Idioms Dictionary © Farlex 2017

a dead ˈletter

an idea, a proposal, etc. that is no longer valid, useful, etc: The plans for a new school are a dead letter, now that we know there will be no students for it.
See also: dead, letter
Farlex Partner Idioms Dictionary © Farlex 2017

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
McGraw-Hill's Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions Copyright © 2006 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.
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References in periodicals archive ?
Most recently, Congress gave Bush unrestricted power--including use of nuclear weapons--in striking at Iraq whenever he deemed it "appropriate." As for constitutional rights, Johnson reviews an abundance of legal proceedings forcing him to conclude that Articles IV and VI of the Bill of Rights are now "dead letters."
Their debut UK single In The Shadows is still number 3 in the UK charts and the album Dead Letters is number 10 in the album charts.
Had any of this saved one human being from sorrow?" What joins the stories is the theme of "possession." Though they overtly describe the waiting and struggle for possession of academic artifacts that will yield knowledge (and tenure!), the stories are not just about tepid academics in search of dead letters but about poets and mystics and the nature of desire.
In the last half-century, that enthusiasm has dulled at the edges, and Rousseau, like some great parcel in the Dead Letters Office of art history, waits to be reclaimed.
In his final grasp at communication, the narrator invites the reading that Bartleby's life, and the story that presents it, are like dead letters that will never reach those that would profit from them.
"Dead Letters" describes Lister's move to London to avoid military service and his return to South Africa, where he visits Mrs.
sticky threads-- And pull out catalogs, postcards, ads, dead Letters,
Anyway, tonight's episode, Dead Letters, is set during the village's annual knees-up, Oak Apple Week.