The term “going postal” is often used in American slang to describe very sudden and extreme anger which often leads to violence. Although the term was initially used to refer to workplace violence, it is also used more generally as well. The consequences of such an episode of violence can sometimes be very severe and quite upsetting for victims and survivors.
The roots of the term can be found in a series of episodes of workplace violence committed by members of the United States Postal Service (USPS). The first of these incidents occurred in 1986, when 14 USPS employees were shot dead by an upset postman, who later shot himself as well. This incident was not isolated; by 1997, 40 USPS employees had been killed in their workplaces in bouts of sudden violence. While many workplaces are dangerous for other reasons, most people like to believe that they will not be endangered by their coworkers. As a result, these incidences of going postal were terrifying for many people on multiple levels, since they suggested that ordinary jobs could be deadly in the wrong circumstances.
Much to the dismay of the USPS, the term “going postal” entered American slang in the early 1990s, when a number of people commented on the sudden violence attributed to disgruntled postal workers. The USPS has tried to discourage the use of the term, arguing that such acts of violence have also been documented in other workplaces, including in the technology sector. However, this type of violence appears to be permanently associated with postal workers, who often work long and stressful hours which might lead to frustration.
Such violence is usually committed by someone who has reached a state of desperate frustration. This may be due to external factors, or to a less than congenial workplace. The behavior is often very difficult to predict, although many workplaces attempt to address disgruntled workers before they reach such levels of anger and frustration. Often, the coworkers and bystanders targeted are completely innocent victims of misplaced rage when someone goes postal.
When someone outside the workplace is extremely angry or irrational, people may also say that he or she is going postal, in a reference to their dangerous mood. When someone does go postal, they can be very difficult to reason with, which can make defusing the situation very difficult. In some cases, law enforcement receives training in dealing with people who are going postal, in the hopes that someone can be stopped and treated without injury to anyone involved. In other cases, someone may be so upset that more drastic measures such as physical or chemical restraint need to be taken.