On this date in 1986, Patrick Henry Sherrill, a disgruntled postal worker, opened fire on his co-workers at a post office in Oklahoma City. Before he committed suicide, he killed 14 people. This terrible incident along with a string of such incidents involving postal workers over the next seven years, led to coinage of the phrase to go postal.
The U.S. Postal Service was understandably unhappy when this usage began gaining currency in the language. In response to this public relations nightmare they created an independent commission to assess workplace violence in 1998. The Associated Press reported its findings:
The commission found that postal workers were no more likely to resort to workplace violence than workers in other jobs. It found 0.26 workplace homicides per 100,000 postal workers from 1992 to 1998. By comparison the rate was 2.10 per 100,000 for retail workers, 1.66 in public administration, 1.32 for transportation and 0.50 for private delivery services (2).
It seems that the final fifteen years of the millennium could be called “The Age of Rage.” As chronicled in the book Word Spy: The Word Lover’s Guide to Modern Culture, the phrase road rage, meaning “extreme anger exhibited by a motorist in response to perceived injustices committed by other drivers,” began to appear in a few media stories in 1988. In the years that followed, the phrase became more and more common. The statistics below show the number of stories containing the phrase road rage that appeared each year:
1997: 2,000 (1)
Expressions relating to angry crazed behavior are nothing new in English. The expression to go berserk entered the language in the 19th century, but its roots go back much farther. Berserk is from Old Norse meaning “bear shirt.” It describes the Viking tactic of putting on bearskins and attacking and pillaging the enemy in a furious, crazed rage. British author Sir Walter Scott introduced the word into English in his 1822 novel The Pirate, and by 1940 it was being used in its present form to describe “crackpot behavior” (3).
Today’s Challenge: Rage, Rage Against the Dying of the Millennium
Besides going postal and road rage, other forms of rage have made it into print, according to Paul McFedries in his book Word Spy: The Word Lover’s Guide to Modern Culture. All the examples below appeared in the 1990s, where rage was clearly all the rage. Given a clue, see if you can identify the specific rage:
1. Rage that resulted when proper etiquette was not followed, especially on greens and fairways.
2. Rage at 20,000 feet.
3. Rage directed at noisy audience members at a musical performance.
4. Rage directed at doctors, nurses, and HMOs.
5. Rage directed at pedestrians or cyclists.
6. Rage at sporting events, directed at other fans or the coaches or players of the opposing team.
7. Rage caused by the perceived commercialization of the Internet.
8. Rage directed at colleagues or bosses.
Quote of the Day: Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae. –Kurt Vonnegut
Answers: 1. golf rage 2. air rage 3. concert rage 4. patient rage 5. sidewalk rage 6. sports rage or sideline rage 7. dot.com rage 8. work rage (or desk rage)
1 – Paul McFedries. Word Spy: The Word Lover’s Guide to Modern Culture. New York: Broadway Books, 2004.
2 – Talley, Tim. 20 years later, survivors recall terror of US postal massacre.
Associated Press. 19August 2006.
3 – Metcalf, Allan. The World in So Many Words. Boston, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999.