I missed the news back in January about the rapidly vanishing “dear” as salutation, as noted by The Wall Street Journal in its article, “Hey, Folks: Here’s a Digital Requiem For a Dearly Departed Salutation”. Apparently, according to a surprising number of people, “‘Dear is a bit too intimate and connotes a personal relationship’.” Oh. It seems for some baffling reason that they are equating “dear” with “darling”. More, from the story,
Across the Internet the use of dear is going the way of sealing wax. Email has come to be viewed as informal even when used as formal communication, leaving some etiquette experts appalled at the ways professional strangers address one another.
People who don’t start communications with dear, says business-etiquette expert Lydia Ramsey, “lack polish.”
“They come across as being abrupt,” says Ms. Ramsey, who founded a Savannah, Ga., etiquette consultancy called Manners That Sell.
“It sets the tone for that business relationship, and it shows respect,” she says. “Email is so impersonal it needs all the help it can get.”
I learned about this latest nail in the coffin of courtesy in today’s episode of the CBC radio show “Spark”, which continues the old saw that “It’s clear what the tone is in a text or a tweet, but in an email the tone is a bigger problem as we swing back and forth between casual and formal contexts”. Somehow Dr. Johnson, George Bernard Shaw, Abigail Adams, and Groucho Marx didn’t seem to have any problem conveying tone, and without relying on facial expressions or emoticons. And as Miss Manners has explained, there are those “folks who believe that modern society is annoyingly characterized by generosity, gratitude and consideration for others, and we would all be better off if we behaved like — well, like them. Miss Manners has heard from such people, who believe that daily life is not acrimonious enough. She only hopes that their brow-beatings will not succeed in dumbing down the standards that some of us still meet.” Several years ago, in a Wired interview, Miss Manners discussed the salutation situation:
Wired: You favor old-fashioned salutations in written correspondence: Dear So and So … Do you use salutations in email?
Miss Manners: Email is very informal, a memo. But I find that not signing off or not having a salutation bothers me. I am waiting to see if this is just a fuddy-duddy vestige I should divest myself of.
I wracked my Sunday brain, and came up with a few letters between correspondents without intimate and personal relationships, in other words, in the no love lost category.
From Mr. Collins to Mr. Bennet:
THE disagreement subsisting between yourself and my late honoured father always gave me much uneasiness, and since I have had the misfortune to lose him I have frequently wished to heal the breach; but for some time I was kept back by my own doubts, fearing lest it might seem disrespectful to his memory for me to be on good terms with any one with whom it had always pleased him to be at variance.”
— “There, Mrs. Bennet.” —
“My mind however is now made up on the subject, for having received ordination at Easter, I have been so fortunate as to be distinguished by the patronage of the Right Honourable Lady Catherine de Bourgh, widow of Sir Lewis de Bourgh, whose bounty and beneficence has preferred me to the valuable rectory of this parish, where it shall be my earnest endeavour to demean myself with grateful respect towards her Ladyship, and be ever ready to perform those rites and ceremonies which are instituted by the Church of England. As a clergyman, moreover, I feel it my duty to promote and establish the blessing of peace in all families within the reach of my influence; and on these grounds I flatter myself that my present overtures of good-will are highly commendable, and that the circumstance of my being next in the entail of Longbourn estate will be kindly overlooked on your side, and not lead you to reject the offered olive branch. I cannot be otherwise than concerned at being the means of injuring your amiable daughters, and beg leave to apologise for it, as well as to assure you of my readiness to make them every possible amends, — but of this hereafter. If you should have no objection to receive me into your house, I propose myself the satisfaction of waiting on you and your family, Monday, November 18th, by four o’clock, and shall probably trespass on your hospitality till the Saturday se’nnight following, which I can do without any inconvenience, as Lady Catherine is far from objecting to my occasional absence on a Sunday, provided that some other clergyman is engaged to do the duty of the day. I remain, dear sir, with respectful compliments to your lady and daughters, your well-wisher and friend,
And since I don’t have a copy of the entire letter, including salutation, from Katharine White to Anne Carroll Moore concerning Stuart Little (a letter her husband suspected “set a new world’s record for poisoned courtesy”), here instead is a 1953 letter from E.B. White to a Margaret Halsey,
Dear Miss Halsey,
I had just read your piece in the ALA Bulletin about taking your daughter to the public library, where she liked “the little chairs and the books about fierce things,” when your letter arrived protesting the editorial in the April 18th issue about human rights. Since I am the author of the offending remarks, it is up to me to answer your complaints.
The New Yorker isn’t against freedom from want and didn’t attack it or minimize it as a goal. But we’re against associating freedom from want (which is an economic goal) with freedom of speech (which is an exact political principle). There is, I believe, a very real and discernible danger, to a country like ours, in an international covenant that equates human rights with human desires, and that attempts to satisfy, in a single document, governments and philosophies that are essentially irreconcilable. I do not think it safe or wise to confuse, or combine, the principle of freedom of religion or the principle of freedom of the press with any economic goal whatsoever, because of the likelihood that in guaranteeing the goal, you abandon the principle. This has happened over and over again. Eva Peron was a great freedom-from-want girl (specially at Christmas time), but it also happened that La Prensa died and the Argentinians were left with nothing to read but government handouts.
If you were to pack croquet balls and eggs in a single container, and take them travelling, you would probably end your journey with some broken eggs. I believe that if you put a free press into the same bill with a full belly, you will likely end the journey with a controlled press.
In your letter you doubt whether the man who wrote the editorial had given much thought to the matter. Well, I’ve been thinking about human rights for about twenty years, and I was even asked, one time during the war, to rewrite the government pamphlet on the Four Freedoms — which is when I began to realize what strange bedfellows they were. A right is a responsibility in reverse; therefore, a constitutional government of free people should not ward any “rights” that it is not in a position to accept full responsibility for. The social conscience and the economic technique of the United States are gaining strength, and each year sees us getting closer to freedom from want. But I’m awfully glad that the “right to work” is not stated in our bill of rights, and I hope the government never signs a covenant in which it appears.
My regards to your daughter, who (human rights or no human rights) is my favorite commentator on the subject of public libraries.
Just two examples where dear is far from darling.
Becky (who does in fact have sealing wax in the house, and is not afraid to use it)