Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Word with the Post Office

I went to the Post Office to mail a birthday card to my niece. Before I slid the envelope into the slot marked Stamped Letters, I read the official sticker beneath the slot:

"Due to heightened security, all mail that bears postage stamps and weighs more than 13 ounces must be taken by the customer to a retail service counter at a Post Office."

I was curious how the Post Office had settled on the threshold of 13 ounces. Did Post Office scientists experiment with bombs of various weights and find that a 13-ounce bomb was annoying but a 14-ounce bomb was truly devastating?

The sticker continued with the terse warning in smaller print:

"Failure to do so will result in a return of your mailpiece."

I was discomfited that the Post Office had created the word "mailpiece" as a substitute for "piece of mail." No dictionary sanctions this word, which would fall fittingly, given its injury to proper English, between the dictionary entries for "mailman" and "maim". Does the Post Office think that pirate treasure is denominated in "eightpieces" rather than "pieces of eight"? Anyway, "mailpiece" is a clumsy and unnecessary word that strikes me as altogether too suggestive of "codpiece".

The government should not be making up words; modern life is already too Orwellian. I have a notion to give the Postmaster a talking to. And don't think that I would quail at doing so. For me it would be a cakepiece.