I've been puzzling over the social form known as email. More often than not, people send me emails addressed with a salutation of the kind used with the other form of correspondence once simply known as a letter:
"Dear Amy" or "Hi Amy" or "Hello Amy" or "Hey Amy", "Dear Ms Tan" or even "Dear Amy Tan". Occasionally, there is no salutation.
You can pretty much guess who would use the various salutations. "Dear Amy Tan" is from eBay or Paypal, telling me I have either paid for something or should pay for it. "Hey Amy" is only from someone I know well enough to hug. No salutation is from my husband, my assistant, my friends I am in touch with everyday. Familiarity breeds lack of hello, hey, and dear. I email my husband daily, although he is across the hall from me. r "Guests arriving at 7 p.m. I may have on earplugs while writing, so please answer the door when the dogs bark."
Emails to my familiars are telegrammic. "Arriving noon. If late, will call." Sometimes the answers are elliptical. "Okay," it will say, and I have to scroll down to an older email to know what "okay" refers to. I am rarely telegammic or elliptical. I am among the novelistic and garrulous in replying to emails. I include every side-thought while writing back, adding surgical notes about my dog's cleft palate, remarks about how I slept the night before, detailed heart-rending about someone we know in common who has just been diagnosed with a terrible disease. I am embarrassed at times how long my emails are. This is the reason I have finished three novels fewer than I ought to have. Since I am now on a writing schedule, I have restricted myself to internet only briefly, forcing upon me the telegrammic style. Aas always, I don't proof-read my emails, which saves time, but there are always mistakes, and I'm sure there are people who've received an email from me who wonder how I ever became a writer when I don't know subject-verb agreement. It's amazing, actually, how many writers I know whose emails are riddled with mistakes. They don't bother either. You'd think we'd be more self-conscious.
Now here is what I ponder over the most. The ending. The sign-offs. At the end of each email, I ask myself that slight anxiety-producing question: Which ending should I use? Which have others used with me. Consider them:
"Yours" -- I see that written by business people I have never met. I used to think "yours" was written by lovers. But it seems more used in business. I asked a friend what "yours" meant to her. She is "yours" is a business signoff because it is an abbreviated form of "sincerely yours" or "yours truly." Now that we are less sincere and less true, we can pledge that we are "yours." I think the last person who emailed using that word was a man I've corresonded with several times over the installation of a generator.
"Best" --I admit that I have used this a lot. It seems jovial, friendly, assured. Thinking about it, it must come from an abbreviated form of "best wishes." I went back to a few emails where I had written "best" and realized it would have sounded awkward to have written "best wishes" instead. First of all, "best wishes" seems like a greeting card ending. It feels distanced to me. What's more, "best wishes" are the same two words many people ask me write on books I am signing for them (Given my druthers, I would write something far better). Having written "best wishes" to strangers thousands of times, it makes me feel that "best wishes"on an email is not entirely friendly. Furthermore, "best wishes" sounds too superficially happy, not a good thing to write when you've just told someone that you're sorry they just lost their job. But I still use "best." Or sometimes "all best," which is what I saw a writer had signed on her handwritten letters to me twenty-five years ago. And I thought it was very sophisticated because she was/is a great writer.
"Regards." I have never used this. I assume it derives from "best regards," or "give my regards to..." I have a peculiar reaction to "regards." As I see it, "regards" is what people used to write in the 1940s and 1950s. It seems stiff and antiquated. Then again, I've seen people far younger than I use that sign-off. The friendlier version is, of course, "warm regards," but that seems odd to me as well, a sort of oven mitt added to what is already lukewarm. A friend who got mad at me suddenly started signing off, "regards," and eventually elevated it to "warm regards," but has declined to resume using "love." So that confirms what I think about "regards."
Which brings me to "love" and "xxox".
I used to think that "xxox" and its variants meant "love". It sort of does. But when I see that someone has actually written "love", that stands out much more and causes me to wonder what they mean by "love" written out so blatantly. My custom is to use "xoxox" for what the symbols stand for: Kisses and hugs. That is not something that came naturally to me until more recently --in the last ten years. My family did not hug and kiss. Or maybe you hugged someone if they were leaving for years. But I've adapted. I hug more often. I don't stiffen my shoulders when people hug me. In Spain and France, though, it's absurd. The interviewers kiss the moment they meet--before they conduct the interview. In Spain, they address you also in the "tu" familiar form from the outset. In France, you are "vous" to whoever is addressing you, unless they are under the age of 5 or you have been married to him for more than ten years.
Suffice it to say, to people I would ordinarily give a kiss and a hug, I use "xoxo" or "xxxoo" or even "xxxxxxxoo" --with the x symbol somehow carrying more weight than the o. Maybe it's because oooooooxxx looks like a bull crying in pain.
Anyway, I've noticed that a lot of people are using the symbol xxxoo signoff more, too. It's contagious. And that makes me think that conventions and emotional expressions can become viral in email. People copy style as convention. It also does not take much to alter the convention. I will give an example. In the past, I would close most of my emails like this:
But then it seemed redundant that I write my name, when my name had already been announced at the beginning of the email in the sender email address. So I began condensing my signature to this:
Curious thing happened. Most of the people I knew started replying to me with their initials only after their sign-off:
So then I started signing off to most people I know:
And again, most people replied with a similar row of symbols and their initial.
I went further and changed it stylisticaly to this:
And I got back
But then I would wonder why this person had used a shorter number of love symbols, only one to my two. Was it more stylistic or less love?
So this is what a writer thinks about instead of writing. I've decided that this week's timewaster is to create a brand new, never-used salutation and close for each email. I want to see how people respond--with more or less or something similarly aimed? What would you write, if I signed off:
"My fingers are tapping love love love to you and leave the keyboard ever so reluctantly and only because it is 2:36 a.m."
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