‘Seinfeld’ Made the World Terrified of Envelopes

Susan’s death may have been inspired by a 19th century tragedy
‘Seinfeld’ Made the World Terrified of Envelopes

The most shocking moment in the history of Seinfeld (not involving Kramer’s stand-up comedy career) was the death of George’s fiancée Susan, who randomly keeled over while preparing to mail their wedding invitations. In retrospect, it was a pretty grim turn of events to be accompanied by a laugh track and a funky bass line.

The cause of death? “Toxic” glue on the envelopes. The real cause of death? The actress didn’t gel with the rest of the cast, prompting Julia Louis-Dreyfus to jokingly blurt out: “Don't you just want to kill her?” As Jason Alexander later recalled, the decision to bump off Susan was “wrong and rude and dangerous — but funny.”

Larry David liked that George being “tight with money” is what inadvertently leads to Susan’s demise. As the doctor who delivers the sad news reveals, the “toxic adhesive” that killed Susan is “commonly found in very low-priced envelopes.”

But by making envelope glue the instrument of Susan’s untimely death, the show seems to have inadvertently made a ton of people super-paranoid about a perfectly normal task. One user on the Seinfeld subreddit posted that they’re “always afraid” when licking envelopes at work. Others speculated that the episode taught “a whole generation not to lick a bunch of envelopes.” 

Yeah, it kind of seems like that’s what happened. 

This isn’t just fans joking around either — there are multiple online forums in which pregnant people have expressed genuine concern about licking envelopes, seemingly because they grew up watching Seinfeld.

The idea for the fatal envelopes came from writer Tom Gammill, and originated with a childhood memory. “Growing up I’d always heard the story that you can die from licking envelopes,” Gammill recalled. Apparently, his mother told him that someone once died from licking envelopes, “because they didn’t have antibiotics or something.” 

While he didn’t remember the specifics, it could be that Gammill’s mother was referring to a case involving a man named S. Fechheimer, who died in 1895 after licking an envelope. But it wasn’t because of the glue, it was due to “blood poisoning, as a result of cutting his tongue.” That detail was apparently lost in the shuffle, likely thanks to headlines such as the one that ran in The New York Times, proclaiming that a Chicago man had been “POISONED BY LICKING AN ENVELOPE.”

While licking envelopes is far less common today than it was back in the days of Seinfeld, the good news is that it won’t actually kill you. So go ahead and mail that letter (even though the internet is a thing now) because, as an article published by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology notes, envelope glue is totally safe. 

It’s made from gum arabic, which “is a product of the hardened sap from acacia trees.” Not only is it not toxic, it’s “often used in candy to bind ingredients together,” including “M&M's, marshmallows and gumdrops.” And unless you’re Tucker Carlson, there’s no reason to be afraid of M&M’s.

You (yes, you) should follow JM on Twitter (if it still exists by the time you’re reading this).


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