Friday, August 19, 2016

Email: You're doing it wrong, according to random clickbait writers

A few years ago, in 2010, I wrote a post noting how "I hope you are well" had started appearing as the opening to most of the emails I received:
A few years ago, I started noticing that a number of academics didn't just launch into requests or whatever when writing emails. Instead, the emails began with the sentence "I hope you are well" or another courteous phrase unheard of back in the olden days.

And the complimentary closes of the emails became more polite, too. Although a lot of people still apparently prefer "best," I've seen comments at the Chronicle saying that this is too curt, and in the last couple of years, I've seen a lot more variety in this part of the email, too: "best regards," "warm regards," "all best," "with best wishes," "cordially," and so on.
I saw this phrase, and some more courteous phrases generally, as an improvement on the necessarily somewhat curt messages we used to send in the early (pre-)Internet days when it was impossible to go up or down a line to correct typos in the email clients then in use.

I don't usually use this phrase, which is mostly reserved for--ahem--only the prickliest of correspondents--but I don't have anything against it.

But Dayna Perkins, a random person on the internet, wrote a clickbait-y piece full of opinions for New York magazine about it, saying we ought to stop using it.

And she links to Rebecca Greenfield, a media-friendly opinion consultant at Bloomberg, who says we also shouldn't be using "best." She cites another bunch of people with lots of opinions.

Well, I, too, am a random person on the internet, and I disagree with exactly as much weight of factual evidence and authority as they're showing.

I ought to know better than to fall for opinion clickbait at this point. I also know that negative clickbait (don't/never/these 5 things will kill you) generates more clicks than positive opinion pieces, so I really should have known better.

But since I want to be respectful and move along, I will sign this as follows:

I remain, dear madame, most affectionately,

Yr most obedient and faithful servant,



nicoleandmaggie said...

An academic version of the recent article on how women are cutting their hair all wrong. Sigh.

I sign my emails "best" because that's what the majority of top people in my field do and I want to copy them to show that I am "in the club." If not "best" then some other thing will become a class identifier. Personally I would prefer for that not to change since I am not part of the first wave of adopters but have to wait until whatever it is gets filtered down in order to keep up with trends.

undine said...

nicoleandmaggie--which article was that ? I missed it but cannot wait to be told, yet again, how I'm doing it wrong.

I find I'm less and less patient with these content-free opinion pieces, and your rationale is the best. Why change "best" if it's working and the higher-ups use it? As you say, if something's a class-identifier, and many things are, why would you abandon it?

nicoleandmaggie said...

I think it was in the NYTimes. Someone mentioned it somewhere to rant about it a bit, but I didn't actually read it because I stopped reading articles about women (or parenting) in the NYTimes several years ago as they were increasing my blood pressure. To sum: apparently somebody got paid to write an article about how he or she doesn't like the haircut that is "in" with middle-aged women in East Coast cities right now. Since I live in nowheresville, I don't even know what that haircut is, but I bet it looks just fine (probably better than the safe straight cut that I have right now, which a quick google tells me is the opposite of what is currently in style).

gwinne said...

You know what irks me? "Cheers" in lieu of "best."

I hadn't realized it's curt. That's what I use most often, sometimes "all best," sometimes the good old "sincerely" (if I really don't know the person) and occasionally, when friendship needs to be communicated as well, "fondly"

Anonymous said...

I'm in the uk. 'Best', to me, indicates mild annoyance. More polite and common is 'All the best' or its lazy cousin 'all best'. Email and written etiquette is much more normalised here. I'm not British, but I really like it. It feels safe and comforting and makes teaching email etiquette to students easy.

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

Oh man... I use "cheers" a lot as a British affectation. And I really HATE "best." But that's often because the people I know who use it really aren't wishing me the best usually.

JaneB said...

My supervisor used Cheers, semi-ironically, & I continue to as a default. All best in my particular UK regional & probably field specific context has something if the same dismissive patness as a southern us "bless your heart" seems to do, but...

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

Veuillez agréer l'expression de mes sentiments les plus distingués.

xykademiqz said...

I close with "best wishes" or "best regards" or just "regards" when I am being particularly frosty. "Cheers" to just with my good buddies. Often, it's just "Many thanks, Xykademiqz," especially if I had the person do something for me.

profacero said...

Well the most useful Spanish closing is "un saludo cordial" -- "cordial greetings", more or less. It is friendly, yet polite, not overly familiar. I use it a lot.

I like all the best but my British ex uses that, so I can't steal it. I use best, cheers, cordially, yours, all sorts of things, depending.

I think we might as well go to the faithful servant and sentiments distingués closings, they are fail safe.

I also like the no salutation / no closing. A lot. I did not like it when e-mails became letters and I hope they stop being. For letters in English, a closing I like is "yours very truly" -- it's what I say when I want to do the faithful servant/sentiments distingués thing. In Portuguese you say "muito atentamente" -- "very attentively."

undine said...

gwinne and Fie--I have a colleague who uses "Cheers," so I use "Cheers" in closing. I mostly mimic what I see.

Anon 5:09--that's really interesting and explains a lot about the email I get from colleagues in the UK--thanks. I'll be more careful about "best" in that case.

Dame Eleanor--elegant!

xykademiqz--I use all those, but "regards" is especially frosty.

Undine Spragg said...

profacero--I wish I spoke Portuguese, for that closing sounds perfect. I use "all the best" a lot and all the rest. The only time I use no closing and just my name is when I'm annoyed at the sender, so it's a pretty good signifier after all.