Friday, September 7, 2012

Dear Reader,

When I was in school (a while ago, admittedly), we learned how to write a letter:
Dear So and So, 
Blah, blah, blah ... 
David Hull
(or, with a close friend or family member, "Love, David" or "Yours, David", or such)

In email these days, if there's any salutation or closing at all, it's something like:
Hi So and So, 
Blah, blah, blah ... 
Some of this, I'm sure, is because times change.  The canonical letter of my youth is miles and miles less formal than one from, say, the 1700s.  Nonetheless, I think the switch from snail mail to email has had an influence.

For one thing, it feels a little funny to add a salutation and closing at all, when the email header includes the names of the sender and recipient.  On the other hand, it can feel a little funny not to have at least something.  So, I think, we tend to revert to what we'd say in a conversation, with both participants standing right there and knowing who the other is.

Beyond the switch to a new medium giving an opportunity for new forms, the medium itself influences the forms.  This has been true with letters as well.  Formal letters with half a page of salutations and closings make more sense when hand-writing and sending a letter is difficult and therefore reserved for occasions like petitioning the royal court, where you are quite possibly addressing an official you only know by name and trying to establish your reputation by means of any titles you may have.

Y'r Humble & Ob'd't S'v't
Etc., etc.

1 comment:

earl said...

I always felt funny calling someone "dear" whom I had never met. But, hey, it's a convention.

The closing was always less formulaic. My Dad told me when in doubt to say "As ever,".

With email, the first exchange is often fairly formal: "Dear Professor Hull." The third or fourth: "Hi, Walt." The sixth or eighth, no salutation at all. At this point the email has become a text.

Interestingly, texts are becoming emails, with the advent of the qwerty phone. I still hv a 10 key, and text like yesterdays teen.