Retro photo of Laurel poking Hardy in the eye

A handshake or poke in the eye?

A while back I read an article by the BBC discussing the declining use of “Dear…” in emails. I’ll admit that at the time I felt my blood pressure rise ever so slightly and I felt the stirrings of a weapons grade rant developing but I managed to restrain myself, resolving instead to go off, calm down and not get so worked up about trivial things.

But then just a few days later I received an email which began:

Jody Byrne,
I am contacting you blah blah blah”

Poke in the eye!
Good day to you, sire.

Like opening the door of a lit oven, this abrupt opener scorched my eyebrows and left me red-faced and speechless. The last time someone addressed me like this was when a particularly bad-tempered primary school teacher caught me dismantling my desk at the back of class.  Regaining my composure, I remembered the BBC article. Standards, it seems, really are slipping. From colleagues who write emails like scolding parents to students who address me like drinking buddies on a booze cruise, nobody it seems, knows how to write an email anymore. Now everyone has their own view of what the various salutations mean but for what it’s worth, here’s how my delicate little brain interprets them:

  • Dear …,
    I like this. It’s like a sincere and hearty handshake unless, of course, someone uses both your first and last names in which case I immediately assume it’s junk mail sent by a machine whereupon I generally delete it without reading. Okay, with a name like Jody you might not know whether I’m a Mr or Ms but there’s no harm in writing “Dear Jody” even if you don’t know me. Anything is better than talking to me like an annoying letter from my bank offering loans I don’t need and can’t afford.
  • Hi …,
    This is my personal favourite: Simple, unassuming, and most importantly friendly. I used to think this was a bit like calling around to my house while I’m having my dinner. No problem if a friend does it, but a stranger will need to step lively as I release the hounds. Thankfully I’m a lot more chilled these days.
  • Hey …,
    The email equivalent of slapping someone on the backside and whistling, especially if there’s an exclamation mark.
  • Jody,
    This one instantly puts me in panic mode, reminiscent of the dread you feel when you’re about to get a stern talking to from a teacher, parent, or boss. What did I do wrong? Why don’t you like me? Why are you so angry? I think I’m going to cry! No, wait, how dare you? I’m going to make you cry now, dammit!
  • No salutation at all
    Walk right up to me and give me a big ‘ol poke in the eye why don’t you? What kind of person even does this?

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