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On this day 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 (1).
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 the commission’s finding that postal workers were not more prone to workplace violence than other works. Other categories of workers, such as retail workers, transportation workers, and public administration workers, were found to have significantly higher incidences of violence than postal workers (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 (3)
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” (4).
Today’s Challenge: Write A Rant
Writing is a great way to work out your problems and to blow off steam. It also allows you to express your passion while working through and thinking about what’s bothering you. What are things that you think are worth complaining about, the hassles of life that frustrate you? Brainstorm a long list of things to complain about. Then, pick one complaint you feel passionately about. Write your rant, expressing your passion but also explaining the reasons behind your frustrations in concrete terms so that your audience can understand them. Don’t just tell what frustrates you; show it. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)
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 – Applebome, Peter. Mail Carrier Kills 14 in Post Office, Then Himself. The New York Times 21 Aug. 1986. https://www.nytimes.com/1986/08/21/us/mail-carrier-kills-14-in-post-office-then-himself.html.
2 – ABC News. Commission: ‘Going Postal’ Is a Myth. 31 Aug. 2000. https://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=95958&page=1.
3- Paul McFedries. Word Spy: The Word Lover’s Guide to Modern Culture. New York: Broadway Books, 2004.
4 – Metcalf, Allan. The World in So Many Words. Boston, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999.