The Trappings of Courteous Correspondence, Vol. 13, Issue 13

Dear Etiquetteer: After how many email exchanges is it OK to drop the "Dear John" at the beginning and "Sincerely" or "Best" at the end?

Dear Mailing:

In what might seem an unorthodox response, Etiquetteer thinks salutations and closings may courteously be dropped after three or four rapid-fire exchanges, depending on the circumstances. For instance, when corresponding with one's boss or a client, let that person drop these things first.

Etiquetteer finds it interesting to reflect on how Perfect Propriety in communications has evolved with the advent of electronic mail 20 years ago. Methods of communication have evolved along with civilization. People have always sought - and continue to seek - faster and more convenient ways to communicate when unable to do so face to face. (And thank goodness! Etiquetteer doesn't fancy having to scratch a tablet with a stylus to send a letter.)

In modern civilization, the telegraph and telephone brought enormous change, especially the former. With a charge for every letter, the niceties of everyday speech were necessarily clipped. The advent of text messaging in the 21st century brought that to a different level, with more acronyms and abbreviations than it was sometimes possible to understand. Increasingly, and perhaps expensively, the elaborations of written correspondence are creeping back into texting, where they don't really belong. Etiquetteer thinks this has to do with not being billed by the message (as Western Union did with telegrams) but by being billed monthly by the Phone Company of Your Choice. But salutations and long words are out of place in this medium.

Technological methods of communications didn't really eliminate written correspondence, which had been the principal means of communications for centuries. Then along came email, and everyone began communicating faster and more conveniently - but with less Perfect Propriety, and with less specialness. The conventions of written correspondence - salutation beginning with "Dear," body, and closing such as "Love," "Sincerely," or "Yours truly" - somehow didn't translate to email because email felt more casual. "Dear" was dropped in favor of "Hi," "Hey there," or "Greetings." "Sincerely" was replaced by "Cheers," "Best," or by nothing at all. This has been going on so long that an entire generation has grown up without necessarily being taught how best to correspond - in whatever medium - and our national quotient of Perfect Propriety, not to mention Basic Grammar, Spelling, and Punctuation, has suffered for it. And Etiquetteer thinks it's still vitally important to know. When all your batteries go out and all the power fails, it could just be you left with pen, paper, and a candle to get your word out.

The domination of email has repositioned the Lovely Note as something exceptionally special - and just as necessary to express extra-important thanks. Etiquetteer cannot pretend to explain why receiving a Lovely Note in the post box feels so much nicer than receiving a Lovely Email in the inbox, but it does. And in some fields, a thank-you email is considered Perfectly Improper. Only written thanks will do. Etiquetteer continues to believe that Lovely Notes are still the most beautiful and necessary way to convey sincere thanks. They may not be as swift as email, but they are certainly received with extra delight.

Etiquetteer hopes you'll write a few today!