The vexing question of how to sign off from an email

Ben Pobjie writes: The world of modern technology is filled with potential pitfalls to snare the unwary: how to keep sexting discreet; how to commit libel on Twitter without adverse consequence; how to stop playing the game Candy Crush.

But there are few elements of modernity as vexing as the question of how to sign off from an email. It’s an easy task if you want to look like a passive-aggressive tosser, but if you don’t, it’s one of the most fraught decisions you’ll make – and you have to make it over and over again, every day, knowing that if you slip up you might find yourself on the end of a workplace harassment complaint or scathing mockery from colleagues.

Like many people, I most often go for the safe option: the “cheers”. “Cheers, Ben” my emails tend to conclude. The trouble with “cheers” is, first of all, what does it actually mean? Am I literally cheering the person I’m writing to? Am I saying, “hooray!” at the end of my message? Or is it a toast – am I drinking to their health and electronically clinking e-glasses with them? Of course, it’s neither. “Cheers” doesn’t actually mean anything, and it’s also mind-bogglingly unoriginal: all that says to your correspondent is “I have neither the wit nor the inclination to come up with any meaningful way to end this”. [Continue reading…]

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2 thoughts on “The vexing question of how to sign off from an email

  1. delia ruhe

    Interesting. I don’t see the point of signing off with anything but my name. Maybe “thanks,” if I’m asking a favor.

    I spent 5 years in the military as a communications specialist. Protocols didn’t allow any unnecessary verbiage. What I don’t like about email communication is that many emailers take too long to get to the point.

    Communal birthday cards — the kind that get circulated around the office — always gave me trouble. My colleagues used to tease me about merely writing my name on these without any message of congratulations/affection/cheers etc. I once added my email address on a Bon Voyage card, and a colleague remarked: “Wow, almost a love letter!”

  2. Paul Woodward

    Such is life that some of us can agonize over its many seemingly trivial details. Like the writer, I too find the sign-off a vexing issue. By default I usually end up with “thanks,” conscious of the fact that I am not actually saying thanks for anything in particular — although I guess it could be taken to mean, “thanks for having read to the end of my message.”

    These signals of arrival and departure might not carry much semantic sense but they are actually essential elements of human interaction — the ways we show respect and affection, or risk indicating a lack of those.

    I decided after reading this that — with a nod to my bohemian youth — I’ll go back to “ciao.” But then I discovered what it literally means: “I am your slave”!

    Still, in this case I think it’s usage not roots that counts and I like the fact that “ciao” is so all-purpose (goodbye and hello) and is understood in so many languages.

    (And just in case this didn’t register with some readers: Ben Pobjie is a comedian. Not everything I post here has to be taken deadly seriously.)

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