Thursday, March 14, 2013

Very Respectfully (with Crossed Fingers), Bilbo

As you all well know, Dear Readers, I enjoy writing letters. Many of you have received (and, hopefully, enjoyed) my lengthy and meandering handwritten epistles. It's a win-win!

We all enjoy receiving letters, but very few people actually enjoy writing them. I think that's a large part of the reason so many people have embraced e-mail and, especially, Twitter, which allows you to give the appearance of communicating within the limitations of 140 characters. With either one, you can just sit down at a keyboard and bang out a quick note without too much need to worry about annoying things like composition, good grammar, proper spelling, and correct use of punctuation.

There are other differences between e-mail and traditional letter writing, too. Consider this article by Matthew J. X. Malady - "You Say 'Best.' I Say No: It's Time to Kill the E-Mail Signoff."

You may recall, if you are as old as I am, learning that the parts of a letter include the salutation, the body, the complimentary close, and the signature. Briefly*, a basic letter looks like this:

(Salutation) Dear Recipient,

(Body) Blah, blah, blah, blah**.

(Complimentary Close) Yours Truly,

(Signature) Your Name

An e-mail or tweet, however, might look like this:

"Yo! IMHO we should LOL at the GOP and the Dems."

You will note that there's no complimentary close or signature, because everyone knows from the electronic header of the e-mail or the tweet handle (I don't really know what it's called, since I don't tweet) who the message is coming from, and why do we need old-fashioned pleasantries like a complimentary close in a modern electronic communication?

That's Mr Malady's point in his article - there's no longer a need for an artificial complimentary close (or "signoff") in an e-mail. As he more-or-less eloquently writes,

"Email signoffs are holdovers from a bygone era when letter writing—the kind that required ink and paper—was a major means of communication. The handwritten letters people sent included information of great import and sometimes functioned as the only communication with family members and other loved ones for months. In that case, it made sense to go to town, to get flowery with it. Then, a formal signoff was entirely called for."

It's sad, but probably accurate.

As an example, when I write an official e-mail from my desk at the Pentagon, I always use the standard signoff: "v/r," which is e-shorthand for "very respectfully." Sometimes, depending on the level of respect to be accorded to the recipient, it might even read just "r" - "respectfully." After all, it  just wouldn't do for a general to send an e-mail from his lofty perch to a lower-level peon and sign off "very respectfully." Sometimes, the recipient might be someone for whom you actually have little or no respect, making the "v/r" or the simple "r" a hypocritical exercise in format ...

So ...

Should we eliminate the e-mail signoff? I think the answer is "yes," unless you are going to be sincere about it. And as long as we're at it, why not eliminate the "Dear" in the salutation? Unless I'm writing to my family or very close friends, chances are that I don't consider the recipient to be "dear."

But you, Dear Readers, will always still merit a dear from me, whether electronically or on paper.

Have a good day. Want a hand-written letter of your own? Send your snail-mail address to der_blogmeister(at)yahoo(dot)com and I'll send you one. I'll even start it with "Dear."*** 

Come back for Cartoon Saturday.

v/r (for real),


* For those of you who speak German, consider this an unintended, but clever pun ... the word for "letter" in German is "Brief."

** This is the standard body for a letter received from your elected reprehensives in response to a communication from you.

*** Except for Mike, who gets a "Yo, Bro!"


eViL pOp TaRt said...

There was another old-fashioned closing, "Your obedient servant." Wellington took exception to it.

Duckbutt said...

Oliver Cromwell sometimes closed a letter with, "Yours in the bowels of Christ."

Bilbo said...

Angel - I sometimes close e-mails with "Yr Obd't Svt" when I want to be cynical. Which is fairly often.

Duck - That's a classic...hadn't heard it before.

Mike said...

One of these days I'll write you back. No really. The day my handwriting becomes legible.

Atomic Dog said...

There should be room for the niceties of writing, like salutations and closings.

Amanda said...

I don't think I've used a 'Dear' at the start of any email. And I totally agree with removing the email signoff because I never know what to use. Email is a simple means of communication, so, we need to keep things simple.

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

Dear Bill,
This was a clever post.
Warm Regard, (and i mean it)