Thursday, December 21, 2006


Over lunch the other day, a friend of mine who inhabits a lucrative and leisurely ecological niche of the media alerted to me to Lucy Kellaway's column announcing her annual awards for jargon, or "Twaddle". My friend was particularly amused at her awards for email sign-offs where she came down hard on the prevailing practice (in the UK?) of ending business email with "Best". Money quote:

For some time now “Best” has been the preferred way to end a business e-mail, and very sloppy it is too. Best what, I always wonder. It’s like saying Happy instead of Happy Christmas.

I'm not so sure she gets it.

Ms. Kellaway may be too young to remember, but there was a time when people routinely wrote email entirely in the lower-case, and often neglected to sign off, let alone use a closing salutation. Nowadays, I know of only one person who insists on avoiding capital letters in his electronic missives. And most respectable people (assuming that such a concept still exists), at least in their initial stages of any specific exchange, will add a signature.

No-protocol-is-the-best-protocol was okay when cyberspace belonged to scientists, engineers and younger members of the corporate world, and executives left any typing to their personal assistants. But as the Internet grew in volume and density and underlings and assistants moved up the corporate ranks, even top executives had to swim, or sink. With this adoption of email as the preferred medium for all layers of corporate society, some form of closing salutation, not mention the sign-off, was bound to creep in and spread. In this sense, "Best" seems to be analogous to cetaceans redeveloping fins as they (re)adapted to life in the water.

As for what she sees as "sloppiness" in this instant, though, that may be here to stay. Email occupies a middle ground between the formal hard copy letter and the more relaxed, everyday telephone call (or the more extreme text messaging). That "sloppiness" looks more like an accurate reflection of the informal nature of the medium.

It is, no doubt about it, a funny column.


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