What’s the point of signing off emails with words you don’t even mean?

Should we aim to stick as closely as possible to the conventions of traditional letter-writing? Or end emails with the actual last thing we want to say?
  • @alicevjones

Does anything bring on the desire to thunk head on desk like mistakenly putting three kisses on the end of an email to your boss?

I think not. It’s the adult equivalent of calling your teacher “ Mummy” at school, a cheek-burning slip‑up that you won’t be allowed to forget in a hurry.

It has ruled the workplace for the past 20 years, but email is still a fraught business. Think of all of the incriminating messages read out in courtrooms, the sexy love notes that go viral, the number of times you cc the only person you meant to avoid. Most perilous of all is the sign-off. The options are bewildering – “ Best wishes”, or simply “Best”? Is it rude to shun an unwanted kiss? Strangely, for a means of communication based on efficiency, false fulsomeness rules. Why offer a limp “See you soon” when you could give your “Warmest regards”, your “Very best” or thank someone “A million”? And forget about LOL – it’s a minefield, as David Cameron knows.

This week, the New York writer Matthew Malady called for an amnesty on the “totally unnecessary words that we tack on to the end of emails”. We should, he said, simply end our emails “with the actual last thing we want to say”. It sounds sensible until you consider that what’s at stake is a simple “hello” at the start and a name at the end. Is any life so busy, so streamlined, that two words make a difference? Well, yes. If life is too busy to stand up and walk across the office to ask a colleague a question in person, it’s probably too busy for social niceties, too. But that doesn’t make it right.

Debrett’s warns that emails can be stored, shared and printed out to live on, just like ink and paper. Therefore, it advises, emailers should “aim to stick as closely as possible to the conventions of traditional letter-writing”. “Yours sincerely” may be too cumbersome to type, but it would be a shame if Gmail killed the sign-off. After all, a good goodbye is worth a thousand words. Just look at how Benjamin Franklin socked it to his one-time friend William Strahan in 1775:

“You and I were long Friends: – You are now my Enemy, – and

I am,


B Franklin.”


The head of the Royal Opera House has had it with divas acting like divas. Speaking to the press this week, Antonio Pappano raged against young singers who drop out of performing at the first hint of huskiness. Covent Garden has been plagued with cancellations over the last season with Juan Diego Florez and Marina Poplavskaya among the stars to have pulled out, citing health reasons. "There's something about this generation of singers who are either weaker in their bodies or just don't care", said Pappano. "For Domingo to cancel he would have to be on his deathbed."

True, Domingo only cancelled his appearance in Tamerlano in 2010 in order to have colon cancer surgery but there is nothing new here. Opera singers are not only the loudest but the sickliest of artists, as prone to no-shows and illness as footballers are to falls and groin strains. Like footballers, you might argue, they are tuned for perfection and singing with a sore throat could cause irreversible damage to their most precious asset. Nevertheless, sickies are a pernicious problem, leaving those in the stalls sorely disappointed. Should they, as Pappano suggests, man up?

That depends. I once had the misfortune of sitting down to The Pearl Fishers at the Coliseum to find that not only was the leading man, Alfie Boe, off sick, his understudy and his leading lady were suffering with the same bug. They both struggled through the first act. In the second act, the understudy finally gave up leaving a chorus member to step in and sing from the wings as his ailing alter ego mimed centre-stage. There's a fine line, it turns out, between 'The show must go on!' and 'Must the show go on?'

Twitter: @alicevjones