Postal, Going

The Book of Human Emotions: From Ambiguphobia to Umpty - 154 Words from Around the World for How We Feel - Tiffany Watt Smith 2016

Postal, Going

In the shadow of a series of deadly mass shootings by disgruntled postal workers in the 1980s, the expression “going postal” began to be used across America to describe a fit of workplace rage.

Some psychiatrists see mass shootings in America—of which going postal was an early example—as a type of culture-bound syndrome. There are other examples of such illnesses, all with their own distinct patterns and recognizable behaviors. Among the Gurumba tribe of New Guinea, guria (literally: being a wild pig) only afflicts young men between twenty-five and thirty-five years of age, and is thought to be caused by a bite from a spirit ancestor. It makes the men sweat and tremble, and run through the village, stealing valueless objects and threatening women and elders with knives (though no one is hurt). The victim of guria then runs off into the forest, and three days later returns, with all traces of the wild pig—and all memory of what happened—gone. Compare this to amok, or amuk, which in Malaysia is a delirious and violent episode, giving the phrase in English “running amok.” Also imagined to be caused by spirit possession, an episode of amok is usually precipitated by some insult or humiliation, followed by a period of intense brooding, and finally erupting into a rage-filled rampage where the afflicted person kills anyone in their path, finally either killing themselves, or regaining sensibility with no recollection or understanding of what has happened.

For another culture-bound syndrome, see: WANDERLUST.