Email Fairwells

June 20, 2007 at 9:54 pm (Culture)

I stumbled across this article in The New York Times’ Style section from November of last year which discusses the importance and implications of how a person signs off on their email: “Best”, “Regards”, “Sincerely”, etc. I have thought about this subject way more then I ever thought was reasonable, but now that the NYT has written about it I feel I have license to let loose with the following tangent.

I have always found regards to be a little cold as a sign-off. To me it reads “I really don’t care if you live or die, but since decorum dictates that I conclude our correspondence with some kind of farewell statement, this is what I will use.” To regard, basically means to consider, so to write “warmest regards”, it reads “I have warm consideration for you.” This works, but just plain-old regards is like saying “I consider you”, or “I acknowledge your existence, but that is as far as I’ll go.” It’s weird.

“Best”, is better, but still too stuffy for my taste. In general usage, Best can be used either as an adjective “He is the best cook.”, or a noun “You’re the best!” As a sign-off, the assumption is that it is being used as an adjective, but since there is no noun given for it to modify, it just sounds lazy. At the very least, there should be an ellipses to indicate something is missing. As a sign-off, to me it reads: “It is my intention to conclude this email correspondence positively. I have best ‘something’ for you, however I am not going to take the time and you are not quite important enough for me to actually figure out what that something is.”

The noun regards works fine when preceded with an adjective like warmest. The adjective best works well when followed with a noun like wishes. Ironically, these two curt farewells work nicely when combined as best regards.

My sign-off of choice for professional correspondence has always been “Take care.” It sounds professional, but it implies a certain amount of concern for the other person’s well being. To me, it reads “I know both you and I have to pretend like we are very interested in these work-related topics that we are discussing here, but all things being equal, I’d much rather be sharing a pitcher of beer with you somewhere talking about anything else but this.”

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