Is there a word for a rule that is not strictly enforced since proper enforcement of that rule would result in the expulsion/paralysis of too many members?

E.g., In "Game of Thrones" there is a part where a character says something to the effect of "If we beheaded all the watchmen who go to Molestown we'd only have ghosts manning the wall.".

  • There's the line from Hamlet that's made it into everyday English: a custom more honour'd in the breach than the observance. – tmgr Jan 13 '19 at 23:32

One term is dead letter.

A law or treaty which has not been repealed but is ineffectual or defunct in practice.

‘Environmental law, just like any other, is a dead letter if not enforced.’


OED has the term first used with this meaning in 1663 following an earlier more literal meaning, "A writing, etc. taken in a bare literal sense without reference to its ‘spirit’, and hence useless or ineffective."

It's likely that letter here means much the same as letter in letter of the law, rather than "item of mail."


a loosely enforced rule is: TDF

made less strict; relaxed:


The rule is loosely enforced, as proper enforcement would result in the expulsion/paralysis of too many members?

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