January 12, 2008

Okay, here is my dilemma. It’s actually a dilemma I’ve had for some time, but changing circumstances over the last few years have made it more and more problematic.

In the United States, the proper valediction for a written social communication is “Sincerely yours” or “Yours sincerely.” Since sometimes it’s necessary to live dangerously, you can add “very” before “sincerely.”

All right so far.

The proper valediction for a written business communication to a person whose name you know is “Truly yours” or “Yours truly.” Since sometimes it’s necessary to live dangerously, you can add “very” before “truly.”

But here’s where the problem comes in.

The proper valediction for a business communication to a person whose name you don’t know (e.g. “To Whom It May Concern,” “Dear Sir or Madam,” etc.) is “Faithfully yours.” I’ve never even tried to figure out whether you can put a “very” in that one too, because, given the political climate these days, I can’t close an e-mail “Faithfully yours” or the recipient will assume I am a crazy fundamentalist Christian just waiting for God to rapture me away from all this, and will not bother responding.

At the same time, I feel really weird closing e-mails with anything else when there is a very clear correct choice.

I suppose I could just never write to anybody whose name I don’t know, but I suspect that in the end the drawbacks of such a course of action might prove prohibitive.

Maybe I should just switch to “I beg to remain your most humble and obedient servant.”

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19 Responses to Okay, here is my dilemma

  1. anne marie in philly says:

    my company sells equipment globally. overseas e-mails usually end with “best regards”, “regards”, or “sincerely”.

    my own business e-mail signature contains the words “kind regards”.

    try those and see what happens.

  2. paul says:

    I think I like the last bit 😛 I beg to remain your most humble and obedient servant. Nothing beats being memorable 😛

  3. Adam875 says:

    I’ve never heard of this rule. Why can’t you sign a letter to someone whose name you don’t know “Sincerely?” Are you less sincere because you don’t know his name?

  4. Aidan says:

    Dear Dr. Faustus:

    You never cease to amaze or to instruct me. I pray the day shall never come when I turn to your writings and fail to find both intellectual and spiritual sustenance. I am…

    Very truly yours,


  5. Andrew says:

    With his fourth paragraph showing clear signs that Faustus does not spend careful hours crafting each and every word to us, but instead indulges in “copy and paste”, a little of the innocent inside of me has died.

  6. Cooper says:

    Isn’t faithfulness one of those things to which a degree does not apply? Sort of like pregnancy – either you’re pregnant or you’re not, but to say you are “very pregnant” is redundant.

  7. TED says:

    My business correspondence to a person whose name I don’t know is almost always to the IRS or a state revenue agency. I have always found that the most apt and useful salutation is “Dear Sir and Madam” and the best valediction is “Bitch, please.” This causes some amount of consternation among my peers, who prefer “Regards of an approriate degree of warmth, or lack thereof,” which I find wordy and slightly illogical.

    It is, of course, difficult to work a “very” into either option, but life is a series of compromises.

  8. Kenny says:

    Isn’t that how George Washington signed his correspondence to the Continental Congress? If so, you should go for it.

  9. Dan says:

    You’ve been reading Miss Manners again, haven’t you?


  10. Chris says:

    did E.S. know you’re like this before he asked to marry you? tee hee.

  11. anne marie: While I thank you for the suggestion, I think that following it would cause a potentially fatal allergic reaction.

    Paul: Perhaps you’re right. Though there’s the strong possibility people might take that the wrong way too, which would create a host of problems.

    Adam875: You can’t sign a letter to someone whose name you don’t know “Sincerely” because that’s the rule. I don’t remember which Miss Manners book it’s in, but it’s there somewhere. And Miss Manners is never wrong.

    Aidan: We’ve knitted together and you’ve seen my abs. Don’t you think I merit a Sincerely?

    Cooper: I see what you mean, but I don’t buy it, for two reasons. First, I think it’s a spurious argument, because language construction isn’t and never has been about logic. But second, even if I granted you pregnant, faithful isn’t in the same category. I assume you’d allow “more faithful,” in which case proscribing “very faithful” makes no sense. (If you wouldn’t allow “more faithful,” let me know and we can have a flame war about it.)

    TED: You could work “very” into the second valediction thus: “Regards of a very approriate degree of warmth, or lack thereof.” Your first valediction, however, stumps me.

    Kenny: But if I chopped down a cherry tree I would totally lie about it. Does that mean I’m ineligible?

    Dan: Not lately, actually, but the problem has been worrying me since I first read her counsel on the subject many years ago.

    Chris: Yes. But after the roofie I slipped him, he had no chance of resisting.

  12. Jeffrey says:

    My dear, I never cease to be amazed by the lengths to which you will go in order to find new ways to chase your own tail.

    Oh, that sounds dirty, doesn’t it?

    And I had no idea pledging sincerity was limited only to those you know by name. In any case, when I sign “To whom it may concern” or “Dear Sir/Madam” letters with “Sincerely,” I take it to mean, “I sincerely want this job and you’d better give it to me if you know what’s good for you.”

    If it’s a letter to someone I know, I sign it “Mwah.” But then you know this.

  13. Houston says:

    Sugah, I feel your pain.

    This is my response to the same challenge. I have the same sign-off regardless of the level or degree of formality. I just say,


    Now, being Southern, there are occasions when I feel more comfortable saying, “Cheers, Y’all.”

    I’m pretty sure there’s only one of you behind the screen, so I’ll just say,

    Cheers, sugah.

  14. Campbell says:

    You have a stark choice; either you regard e-mails as letters in which case it HAS to be ‘Yours Faithfully'(Faithfully Yours sounds like a Bette Davis weepie)or you accept, as many do, that e-mails are not letters and that the evolving convention is as Anne-Marie suggests. There are perfectly good drugs to help you negotiate any allergic reaction.

  15. Aidan says:

    I humbly beg your pardon. What I wanted to write, but which I also — perhaps unwisely — edited, was this:

    Dear Faustus:

    You are too hot. I’m not sure I can contain myself. After reading your blog I need 5 minutes alone and something slippery. That naughty photo you sent is now framed and sitting on my desk — which has resulted in decreased productivity at work, but increased productivity at work…if you know what I mean. (Note to self: I need more kleenex at the office.)

    Fuck the book of stories and give us what we really want — a calendar. I’m right now picturing you in leather.

    Your humble servant.


  16. David says:

    How you manage to even dress yourself in the morning remains a mystery to me.

  17. henry says:

    the ‘I remain…’ thingy just works in Spanish.

    I thought everything was ‘yo’ and ‘word’ these days in business communication?

  18. Geronimo says:

    Dear Dr. Faustus:

    Let me go out on a limb here and suggest something radical to the point of revolutionary:

    It’s time to toss the threadbare cloak of social convention Miss Manners has become on to the ash pile known as “best forgotten”.

    You can use the valediction “Respectfully Yours”, to which you can add “very” quiet easily without sounding like a card carring member of the American Family Council.

    Very Respectfully Yours,


  19. gabriella says:

    My lawyer ends his correspondence with
    ‘Thankfully Yours’.

    Not sure exactly what it is he is thankful for. But at least it’s somewhat different from all the ‘truly’s and ‘sincerely’s.


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