dead letter


Definition of dead letter

1 : something that has lost its force or authority without being formally abolished
2 : a letter that is undeliverable and unreturnable by the post office

Examples of dead letter in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web And Donald Trump’s presidency demonstrated that appeals to racial prejudice were hardly a dead letter. Timothy Noah, The New Republic, "Why Biden and Harris Are Right About “Equity”," 4 Feb. 2021 For Black women in the Jim Crow South, the Nineteenth Amendment arrived practically as a dead letter. Deborah Cohen, The Atlantic, "The Real Legacy of the Suffrage Movement," 20 Dec. 2020 Mexico’s antislavery laws might have been a dead letter, if not for the ordinary people, of all races, who risked their lives to protect fugitive slaves. Alice Baumgartner, The New Yorker, "When the Enslaved Went South," 19 Nov. 2020 Unless the Supreme Court rules against the president in a suit relating to the acceptance of foreign government money through his Washington, D.C., hotel, that clause is now surely a dead letter. Hari Kunzru, The New York Review of Books, "Democracy’s Red Line," 4 June 2020 Biden faced the opposite dilemma: after coming in fourth in Iowa, fifth in New Hampshire, and second in Nevada, the worry was that black voters in South Carolina would begin seeing his campaign as a dead letter. Jelani Cobb, The New Yorker, "Joe Biden’s South Carolina Win, Black Voters, and the Democrats’ Way Forward," 2 Mar. 2020 The Postal Service identified the dead letter carrier as Mary Granados, 29. Tim Stelloh, NBC News, "Texas mass shooting victims include postal worker and truck driver," 2 Sep. 2019 The House has the more plausible theory; the one advanced by Mr Trump’s lawyers would, in effect, render impeachment a dead letter, rather than a valid constitutional remedy. The Economist, "His day in court Donald Trump’s lawyers assail a “rigged” impeachment process," 20 Jan. 2020 Were these powers beyond the reach of the people’s power, impeachment would be a dead letter. Jill Lepore, The New Yorker, "The Invention—and Reinvention—of Impeachment," 21 Oct. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'dead letter.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of dead letter

1627, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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Time Traveler for dead letter

Time Traveler

The first known use of dead letter was in 1627

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Statistics for dead letter

Last Updated

11 Feb 2021

Cite this Entry

“Dead letter.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Feb. 2021.

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More Definitions for dead letter

dead letter


English Language Learners Definition of dead letter

: a letter that cannot be delivered or returned by the post office because of an incorrect address or other problem
: a law or agreement that has lost its force or authority

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