23 June 2006

Etymology Part II: Going Postal

"Going postal" is an American expression referring to mental instability and violence, particularly workplace-related violence. "Going postal" is a verb, and "postal" is used as an adjective (e.g. I'm telling you, she's totally postal!)

The first incident that spawned the image of the disgruntled murderous postal worker seems to be the case of Patrick Henry Sherrill, who shot 14 employees at a postal facility in Edmonton, Oklahoma, before shooting himself. This occurred on 20 August 1986. The USPS published an extensive research effort demonstrating that the postal work is actually safer than many other occupations. (According to their report, taxi drivers are most likely to encounter violence on the job, although these are usually incidents of violence from clients rather than co-workers.)

In 1995, the phrase was popularized in the movie Clueless, and the American Dialect Society elected the phrase "Most Original" in its annual New Words of the Year list. Michael Ames' 2005 book about workplace and school shootings is titled Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion: From Reagan's Workplaces to Clinton's Columbine and Beyond.

No comments: