letter bomb

Damien Hall djh514 at YORK.AC.UK
Sun Feb 21 12:06:59 UTC 2010

Just a little addendum to the admirable coverage of _letter bomb_. Victor
mentions that there exist the perfectly good terms _mail bomb_ and _parcel
bomb_, which might in some cases block _letter bomb_ from referring to
anything but an actual letter. Despite this, though, as Victor shows,
_letter bomb_ has in some cases taken on the general function of _mail
bomb_, and seems to be the term of choice for metaphorical uses.

In BrE, the potential 'blocking effect' of _mail bomb_ wouldn't be as
great, as we refer to what's carried by the Royal _Mail_ (strangely) as
_post_; the people who deliver it are _postmen_ and _postwomen_; etc. We
don't call bombs of this type _postal bombs_, so any bomb delivered by post
here is a _letter bomb_, no matter what the actual form of the posted item.

Some raw ghits:

LETTER BOMB in .uk sites:  ~2,660

MAIL BOMB in .uk sites: ~710 (possibly incl also uses of _mail_ as a verb,
though the usual BrE verb for that is _post_)

POSTAL BOMB in .uk sites:  ~345

PARCEL BOMB in .uk sites:  ~834

(POST BOMB in .uk sites: ~4,890 - but this is polluted by many uses of
_post_ as a verb)

The first page of _parcel bomb_ hits includes an interesting example of
_letter_ 'mail item (of any size)':

Headline:  'BBC NEWS | Europe | Prodi survives parcel bomb attack'

Search-engine teaser: 'EC President Romano Prodi escapes injury after
opening a booby-trapped letter at his Bologna home.'

In the text, we find the device (which was a book) referred to both as a
_letter_ and as a _parcel_:


FWIW, we also don't really have the term _going postal_ - if it was used,
it might be understood from context, but it would really be marked as an
'American' thing to say (unsurprisingly, maybe, as the story actually
happened in America!).


Damien Hall

University of York
Department of Language and Linguistic Science
YO10 5DD

Tel. (office) +44 (0)1904 432665
     (mobile) +44 (0)771 853 5634
Fax  +44 (0)1904 432673



The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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