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Time to kill the email sign-off

Date

Matthew J.X. Malady

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Cause of contention: signing-off your email

Cause of contention: signing-off your email

For the 20 years that I have used email, I have been a fool.

For two decades, I never checked burly, bearded dudes who bid me email adieu with the vaguely British "Cheers!" And I never batted an eye at the hundreds of "XOXO" email goodbyes from people I'd never met, much less hugged or kissed. When one of my best friends recently ended an email to me by using the priggish sign-off, "Always", I just rolled with it.

But everyone has a breaking point. For me, it was the ridiculous variations on "Regards" that I received over the past holiday season. My transition from sign-off submissive to sign-off subversive began when a former colleague ended an email to me with "Warmest regards".

Were these scalding hot regards superior to the ordinary "Regards" I had been receiving on a near-daily basis? Obviously they were better than the merely "Warm Regards" I got from a co-worker the following week. Then I received "Best Regards" in a solicitation email from the New Republic. Apparently when urging me to attend a panel discussion, the good people at the New Republic were regarding me in a way that simply could not be topped.

After 10 or 15 more "Regards" of varying magnitudes, I could take no more. I finally realised the ridiculousness of spending even one second thinking about the totally unnecessary words that we tack on to the end of emails. And I came to the following conclusion: It's time to eliminate email sign-offs completely. Henceforth, I do not want - nay, I will not accept - any manner of regards. Nor will I offer any. And I urge you to do the same.

Think about it. Email sign-offs are holdovers from a bygone era when letter writing - the kind that required ink and paper - was a major means of communication. The handwritten letters people sent included information of great import and sometimes functioned as the only communication with family members and other loved ones for months. In that case, it made sense to go to town, to get flowery with it. Then, a formal sign-off was entirely called for. If you were, say, a Boston resident writing to his mother back home in Ireland in the late 19th century, then ending a correspondence with "I remain your ever fond son in Christ Our Lord J.C.", as James Chamberlain did in 1891, was entirely reasonable and appropriate.

But those times have long since passed. And so has the era when individuals sought to win the favour of the king via dedication letters and love notes ending with "Your majesty's Most bounden and devoted", or "Fare thee as well as I fare". Also long gone are the days when explorers attempted to ensure continued support for their voyages from monarchs and benefactors via fawning formal correspondence related to the initial successes of this or that expedition. Francisco Vzquez de Coronado had good reason to end his 1541 letter to King Charles I of Spain, relaying details about parts of what is now the southwestern United States, with a doozy that translates to "Your Majesty's humble servant and vassal, who would kiss the royal feet and hands".

But in 2013, when bots outnumber benefactors by a wide margin, the continued and consistent use of antiquated sign-offs in email is impossible to justify. At this stage of the game, we should be able to interact with one another in ways that reflect the precise manner of communication being employed, rather than harking back to old standbys popular during the age of the Pony Express.

I am not an important person. Nonetheless, each week, on average, I receive more than 300 emails. I send out about 500. These messages do not contain the stuff of old-timey letters. They're about the pizza I had for lunch (horrendous) and must-see videos of corgis dressed in sweaters (delightful). I'm trading thoughts on various work-related matters with people who know me and don't need to be "Best"-ed. Emails, over time, have become more like text messages than handwritten letters. And no one in their right mind uses sign-offs in text messages.

What's more, because no email sign-off is exactly right for every occasion, it's not uncommon for these add-ons to cause affirmative harm. Some people take offence to different iterations of "goodbye," depending on the circumstances. Others, meanwhile, can't help but wonder, "What did he mean by that?" or spend entire days worrying about the implications of a sudden shift from "See you soon!" in one email, to "Best wishes" in the next. So, naturally, we consider, and we overthink, and we agonise about how best to close out our emails. We ask others for advice on the matter, and we give advice on it when asked.

The internet is littered with articles that examine the strengths and weaknesses of various email sign-offs and purport to offer guidance for those who just can't close the deal. But rather than debating which to use and how best to avoid sign-off-related disasters, can't we all just agree to opt for "none of the above" and finally take comfort in ending our emails with the actual last thing that we want to say?

I realise that, at first, this new, message-minimalist fashion may feel unnatural. But we can do this - together. You see, all those holiday "regards" prompted yours truly to take a good, hard look in the mirror. And what I saw was someone who could not begrudge anyone on the sign-off front. Up until this point, I have been far worse than your average offender when it comes to sign off stupidity.

I'm almost ashamed to admit this, but my go-to email sign-off has always been "My very best". There's no beating around the bush here: that's awful. I intended it as shorthand for something like, "Until next time, I wish you my very best". But by beginning the sign-off with a word that references me, it comes off as rather self-centred - the exact opposite of what I intended. Plus, it's confusing. Might some of my friends, co-workers and acquaintances have believed that, for all these years, I meant not to wish them well but to imply that the preceding note was basically the best I could come up with on the topic at hand?

What a nightmare. But that's all over now. Things will be different for me from here on out - especially if you join me in slaying the email sign-off.

Slate

0 comment

  • Get over it. Sign-offs a a common courtesy, which you don't see enough of these days.

    Cordially,

    Nige

    Commenter
    Nigel
    Date and time
    March 14, 2013, 11:56AM
    • Agree.

      Commenter
      Kind regards
      Date and time
      March 14, 2013, 12:10PM
    • Absolutely! Just like you don't hang up on a phone call without a "bye"/"see you later"/whatever, or walk away from a face-to-face conversation without something similar. It's called courtesy and there's way too little of it in the world today.
      All the best
      MegaKay

      Commenter
      MegaKay
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      March 14, 2013, 12:14PM
    • Exactly Nige. Much better to kill off overly indulgent and offensively long sigs. Yes, I'm talking about you ambitious corporate ladder climbers with your pathological need to maintain at any cost the facade of ultra- professionalism!!

      Commenter
      Boo
      Date and time
      March 14, 2013, 12:15PM
    • totally agree. get over it and focus on things that matter

      Commenter
      zeb
      Location
      sydney
      Date and time
      March 14, 2013, 12:23PM
    • Agree, and which industry signs off XOXO i wonder, never seen it nor any colleagues unless it was a personal email!

      Commenter
      Yogi
      Date and time
      March 14, 2013, 12:25PM
    • And it lets you know the email is coming to an end - can be very useful for long responses, or somewhat complicated ones.
      Yours,

      Commenter
      MerriD
      Date and time
      March 14, 2013, 12:26PM
    • 'Boo' wow okay. Start packing your bags we are going on a guilt trip. Don't forget some running shoes because we're going to be jumping to some conclusions.

      Commenter
      DocStevens
      Date and time
      March 14, 2013, 12:32PM
    • If someone can't be bothered to show enuf courtesy to sign off on their email, I can't be bothered answering it. :)

      Commenter
      Brave New World
      Date and time
      March 14, 2013, 12:46PM
    • Agree

      Regards Bradstow

      Commenter
      Bradstow
      Location
      Mildura
      Date and time
      March 14, 2013, 12:49PM
Comments are now closed
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