The Other I

April 14, 2011


Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 7:53 pm

I wouldn’t say it parallels the freedom of Tahrir Square protesters, but I felt liberated after reading a discussion about e-mail in a London paper a couple of days ago.  It’s not just me.

What is the appropriate salutation to begin an email?  Dear John?  Sir?  Sir or Madam?  Dear J?   Hello, John?,  Hi, John?  Or maybe just Hi!

Unlike letters, email hasn’t been around long enough to have gotten codified and customized and circumscribed.  There aren’t hard and fast rules like there are for letter-writing.  One is free to use any salutation that seems suitable for the person and occasion.

Up until now, I have felt a low-level confusion and lack of confidence about my choice of greeting.

But there aren’t any rules.  I’m free to begin and end in whatever way I wish.

Obviously confusion is the totally wrong way to approach the problem.  It’s a question of total freedom!

Although I will admit that beginning an email with “Sincerely yours,” might indeed lead to more confusion than freedom.  At least on the part of the poor person on the receiving end of the sincerity.



  1. Do I know this person and how well? I recently had occasion to e-mail back and forth with an ex-schoolmate who did not remember me at all. I remembered him perfectly. This took place in a language which defines a formal You and an informal You, just to make it worse. I felt comfortable starting out with my usual “Dear John Smith” and it worked all right. It usually does. After a while we changed to first names, but he still did not remember me…


    Comment by budavar — April 14, 2011 @ 8:08 pm | Reply

    • Yes, I agree – the question to ask in choosing a greeting is how I know this person and how well. But as you suggest, it can still be a fuzzy choice when the two people involved don’t know each other equally well. Add the complication of the formal and informal you that exists in so many languages no doubt makes the entire issue even more exciting. I’m grateful I don’t have to decide that issue. I can name at least ten people without trying for whom it would pose a dilemma for me. Especially since Americans, in my experience, tend to be so much less formal than most other countries.

      Thank you for your comment. It makes me realize my problems are small compared to what they could be!


      Comment by theotheri — April 14, 2011 @ 8:44 pm | Reply

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