In one of our previous posts Ingrid Tieken wrote about her analysis of commonly used email sign-offs she found while going through her inbox. (To find out more about the differences she found between American, British and non-native email authors, go here).
Relating to this topic I have recently come across a very entertaining episode of the PRI’s The World in Words podcast in which Alina Simone compares the insecurity many of us feel just before we decide on a suitable email sign-off to the teenage insecurities of longing to fit in and the fear of making a faux pas.
Alina explains the lengths she goes to in order to accommodate to the email recipient, changing her sign-offs depending on whether she is writing to her Russian friends, her colleagues or to the fans of the acclaimed Danish television series Borgen.
This definitely seems like a lot of effort for someone like myself whose variety possibly includes two standard sign-offs ranging from the casual Cheers! to the professional, but not overly formal Best wishes. If you would like to make matters even more complicated, just google ’email sign-offs’, and you will soon get impressive lists of 57 or more different options ranging from the somewhat try-hard High five from down low to the amusing Sent from a prehistoric stone tablet.
What Alina goes on to discuss in more detail is the search for individualised sign-offs, unique phrases that tell you something about the personality and the interests of the authors themselves. To find out more about her story, listen to the episode here.
Finally, what I found intriguing was the discussion on the word Cheers! when used by Americans, which is addressed both by Alina and Patrick Cox, the host of the podcast.
Patrick feels that Cheers! should be off-limits for speakers of American English, especially when they are politely trying to accommodate to the British English speakers in the US. The seemingly welcoming code-switching and the act of adopting British vocabulary, Patrick claims, reminds him of being an outsider.
Who knew that formulating a simple greeting could be this complex? What are your thoughts on British and American sign-off differences? Do you have an individualised sign-off or any that make your list of pet peeves? Leave your comments below.
So could you perhaps say that an email sign-off says something not just about the sender’s regional background, but also his or her relationship with the recipients and – perhaps to an even greater degree – the image they would like to project among their recipients? Perhaps that’s also why they tend to come and go out of fashion so quickly. I mean, there are some sign-offs you just don’t see any more these days.
Thank you for your comment, Tony, and for extending the conclusion to a few more points and insights. Can you also mention some of the out-of-fashion sign-offs to which you are referring?
Well, there’s ‘cool’ for one (my own sign-off was intended to be tongue-firmly-in-cheek) and perhaps also LOL. And there are certain sign-offs that are a bit too time-bound to be usable for very long. I’m sure that if you ended a Dutch email with ‘even wuiven misschien’, people would recognise the reference to Willem Alexander’s inauguration, but it’s not a phrase you’d want to use ad infinitum…
See yer (to use another popular one),
I usually go with Best wishes or the less formal Best. The latter of these was a strongly recommended one on the Forbes.com article by Susan Adams you linked to. The sign-off Best wishes is for me a more formal variant of Best, and it is also fairly common in my own inbox, which made me think about Adams’ comment that it “[s]eems too much like a greeting card but it’s not bad”. For her, the more formal variant of Best is Best regards, which I don’t see as often. In fact, there are a few sign-offs with the word regards in it on the list, and it seems that I don’t see those very frequently. I wonder if this if a difference between British and American English, with wishes being more British?
I think you’re probably right there, Robin. Although I would tend to say (purely on an anecdotal basis) that ‘Best wishes’ doesn’t come across in UK English as especially formal. In fact, I see that some of my (UK) friends use it in their own emails to me and other friends.
Might I be right in thinking that there are fewer variants in Dutch? Most of the business emails I get seem to end with ‘hartelijke groeten/Met vriendelijke groeten’, probably because people have included it in their signature files.
Salutations are also interesting, in both English and Dutch, and it’s often incredibly difficult to strike the right note. Witness the huge outcry over Microsoft President Stephen Elop’s recent ‘Hello there’ email to staff (http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/news/press/2014/jul14/07-17announcement2.aspx). Definitely more research needed…
I’m British and I use Cheers, but definitely not with an exclamation mark (or point, depending on your version of English). Best wishes feels too corporate and formal to me.