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Reflections on the protocols of email salutations and sign-offs

Zelda Zinger asks

Have you recently signed off an email with the words “yours sincerely”? Have you sent a text to say “thanks”? Do you still leave voice mail messages?   Dear God. If so, sit down, we have to have a little chat. The fact is that you may be hopelessly out of step with the brave new etiquette of digital communications.

A bright young whipper snapper writing for the New York Times has pointed out that modern media of communication require new protocols. Without these you risk rudely wasting your interlocutor’s precious time - or worse - identifying yourself as someone who doesn’t quite get it.

Digital natives, that is to say those who have grown up posting videos of themselves on YouTube and being bullied on Facebook, are throwing out antiquated social niceties that have evolved when communicating.

These are the people who might never have occasion to put a pen to paper and write a letter, and who have never had to ask the question, “What does LOL mean?”

Nick Bilton, the writer, points out that when the telephone was invented people picked it up in silence, not knowing how to greet the caller. Its inventor, Alexander Graham Bell suggested that the correct form should be shouting “ahoy”, as if approaching a ship. Eventually we arrived at the socially functional “hello”.

The new rules suggest that for email, there is no longer a need for the varied registers of signing off. Remember learning these?

According to Miss Debrette, who charmingly argues that the art of letter writing is “far from dead”:

“The sign-off depends on the salutation. As a broad rule, if you addressed the letter to 'Dear Mr Debrette' the sign off is 'Yours sincerely'. If addressed to 'Dear Sir/Madam', then 'Yours faithfully' is correct.

“For more personal correspondence, letters can begin with something informal such as 'Dear John'; sign-offs such as 'With love', 'Best wishes' or 'Love from' are usual".

But Miss Manners also insists on the use of quality stationery in the crazy panoply of white, ivory or cream.

As one who recalls sitting through a lesson on how to properly punctuate a mailing address, it is the sign off I think I will miss most. These of course were mainly developed by aspiring novelists and men of letters, often being driven to oleaginous heights by those who were hoping to get cash from patrons.

Something like  “I hope for your favourable Acceptance of this Mark of my Affection and Respect, and have the Honour to be Your Excellency’s most obedient, and Most Humble Servant.”

Most of us who insist on the sign off simplify - “regards” can be warm, kind or sternly utilitarian without the adjectives. “Sincerely”, as opposed to admitting you are lying through your teeth. “Cheers” if you think your breezy bonhomie wins friends and influences people rather than makes them think you a bit of an idiot.

But in communications via digital means, time is of the essence, and whatever is superfluous marks you out. There is no need to ask for directions when there are Google maps. And if you insist on leaving a voice mail, for the sake of everyone’s sanity, don’t then send an email asking if they got your message.

Thank you.

Yours sincerely, best and as ever,