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A law, rule, or policy that is no longer effective or enforceable.
- “The regulation prohibiting smoking in public parks is now a dead letter. Nobody pays attention to it anymore and it is rarely enforced.”
The phrase “a dead letter” comes from the literal meaning of a letter that is not delivered to its intended recipient and becomes obsolete. In the context of law and policy, it refers to something that was once meaningful but has lost its force over time. The phrase has been in use since the 17th century and is still commonly used today.
I hope that helps! Let me know if you have any other idioms you’d like me to explain.