Mind your language

What should you put at the end of an email?

30 January 2021

9:00 AM

30 January 2021

9:00 AM

Suzanne Moore, the Telegraphcolumnist, found it ‘deeply annoying’ when perhaps five years ago she noticed people putting ‘Kind regards’ at the ends of emails. Her real gripe was with false claims to kindness.

So what should you put at the end of an email? Yours sincerely is conventional in letters to people whom one knows. Sincerelyin this context is first recorded by the beloved Oxford English Dictionaryfrom the year 1702, in a letter to Samuel Pepys, in the last year of his life, from Arthur Charlett, the gossipy self-promoting Master of University College, Oxford, who had designed a bookplate for the diarist. He signed himself as ‘your most sincerely obedient Servant’.

To people we don’t know, we were taught as children to end a letter Yours faithfully. This is found earlier than sincerelyby the OEDin a letter of 1564 from Zurich to Myles Coverdale by a Protestant of deep dye, Thomas Lever, who subscribed himself ‘yours faithfully in Christ’. I wonder whether the faithfulness wasn’t being protested towards Christ, rather than to Coverdale. By the 19th century the subscription was bedding down formulaically. Charles Dickens in 1836 was Faithfully yours. Thirty years later, Edmund Venables, the Precentor of Lincoln Cathedral, was signing a letter to the Times as Yours faithfully.

That paper no longer prints the subscriptions to letters, but in 1982 a reader asked for a way to end a letter with a phrase conveying ‘warm and friendly feelings’. In Great Letters, his anthology of letters to the Times, James Owens included some of the replies. Katharine Whitehorn suggested Yours cordially; George Gale Amiably yours. Another reader pointed out that a servant had ended a letter to George IV Invariably yours. I must agree with the Timesreader who in conclusion urged the benefit of time-honoured conventional forms which ‘inane as they are, no longer have any significance in themselves’.

The first record of Kind regards is from a letter by Robert Southey in 1819, where he uses kind ambivalently, perhaps by mistake: ‘My womankind join in kind regards.’ One certainly need not feel kind in order to sign off in an email with Kind regards.

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