Definition of dead letter in US English:

dead letter


  • 1North American A letter that is undeliverable and unreturnable, typically one with an incorrect address.

    • ‘Apparently they are working at the U.S. Post Office, in the dead letter department.’
  • 2A law or treaty that has not been repealed but is ineffectual or defunct in practice.

    • ‘Second, international law will become a dead letter, to be broken by powerful states at will.’
    • ‘The injustice was that the law had been allowed to become a dead letter, until suddenly without warning it was put into force ‘with the utmost vigour and severity’.’
    • ‘If this task simply ends up becoming paperwork, the law will turn into a dead letter.’
    • ‘Otherwise, it might be said with force that the normal rule is a dead letter.’
    • ‘The Act was a dead letter from the start and was repealed by Gladstone in 1871.’
    • ‘Some people are of the opinion that the 1689 Bill of Rights is a dead letter, but the law will need to be changed in order for this to be so; and this may be a long and tedious process.’
    • ‘The harsh laws against intermarriage became dead letters.’
    • ‘Environmental law, just like any other, is a dead letter if not enforced.’
    • ‘I might be thought unnecessarily punctilious in drawing your attention to a law which has become in effect a dead letter, and which you would probably not wish to reactivate in the absence of an incitement to criminal violence.’
    • ‘Unfortunately, the guideline made in the 1980s to control the height of new buildings has become virtually a dead letter.’
    • ‘But the law is hardly a dead letter and Congress is not a toothless tiger.’
    • ‘Any federal law is likely to remain a dead letter unless we have built those hundreds of robust place-based coalitions ready to monitor the law's implementation and use it as an organizing tool.’
    • ‘So it seems the 5th and 6th amendments to the Constitution are not dead letters after all, and those who cherish liberty can thank Judges Rosemary S. Pooler and Barrington D. Parker for reaffirming that fact.’
    • ‘Unfortunately, he has let things slide; he has allowed the laws against immorality to become a dead letter, and the Viennese to do very much as they please.’
    • ‘In many ways the law has become a dead letter in Israel.’
    • ‘Why should we develop the common law to make the statute a dead letter?’
    • ‘A law of August 1806 abolished feudalism but it remained a dead letter until 1808.’
    • ‘This is one of the reasons I'm uneasy about the entire Treaty having legal force - because all of the parts which talk about ‘sovereignty’ are effectively dead letters.’
    • ‘The nations that wrap themselves most tightly in international law are actually those responsible for turning that law, and its aspirations for the world, into a dead letter.’
    • ‘By December 1941, when the United States entered the war, it was already convoying munitions to Britain, making most neutrality legislation a dead letter.’
    1. 2.1 A thing that is impractical or obsolete.
      ‘theoretical reasoning is a dead letter to a child’
      • ‘The socialist objective is a dead letter today, but remember, it was a liability for Labor for a long time.’
      • ‘Communism is a dead letter, and nobody wants a return to military dictatorship.’
      • ‘If Neo-Thomism is by now a repudiated project and a dead letter, another kind of Leo-inspired Thomism, intent on understanding Aquinas's writings in their historical and doctrinal context, remains very much alive.’
      • ‘Even when the proceedings began in July 1992, both sides treated the automatic directions regime as a dead letter.’
      • ‘Wittgenstein's ‘Tractatus’ is a dead letter.’
      • ‘Cinema vérité is a dead letter, believe me.’
      • ‘Jurisprudence, learning, and religiosity were not dead letters.’


dead letter

/ˈded ˈledər//ˈdɛd ˈlɛdər/