For the 20 years that I have used email, I have been a fool. For two decades, I never called bullshit when burly, bearded dudes from places like Pittsburgh and Park Slope bid me email adieu with the vaguely British “Cheers!” And I never batted an eye at the hundreds of “XOXO” email goodbyes from people I’d never met, much less hugged or kissed. When one of my best friends recently ended an email to me by using the priggish signoff, “Always,” I just rolled with it.
But everyone has a breaking point. For me, it was the ridiculous variations on “Regards” that I received over the past holiday season. My transition from signoff submissive to signoff subversive began when a former colleague ended an email to me with “Warmest regards.”
Were these scalding hot regards superior to the ordinary “Regards” I had been receiving on a near-daily basis? Obviously they were better than the merely “Warm Regards” I got from a co-worker the following week. Then I received “Best Regards” in a solicitation email from the New Republic. Apparently when urging me to attend a panel discussion, the good people at the New Republic were regarding me in a way that simply could not be topped.
After 10 or 15 more “Regards” of varying magnitudes, I could take no more. I finally realized the ridiculousness of spending even one second thinking about the totally unnecessary words that we tack on to the end of emails. And I came to the following conclusion: It’s time to eliminate email signoffs completely. Henceforth, I do not want—nay, I will not accept—any manner of regards. Nor will I offer any. And I urge you to do the same.
Think about it. Email signoffs are holdovers from a bygone era when letter writing—the kind that required ink and paper—was a major means of communication. The handwritten letters people sent included information of great import and sometimes functioned as the only communication with family members and other loved ones for months. In that case, it made sense to go to town, to get flowery with it. Then, a formal signoff was entirely called for. If you were, say, a Boston resident writing to his mother back home in Ireland in the late 19th century, then ending a correspondence with “I remain your ever fond son in Christ Our Lord J.C.,” as James Chamberlain did in 1891, was entirely reasonable and appropriate.
But those times have long since passed. And so has the era when individuals sought to win the favor of the king via dedication letters and love notes ending with “Your majesty’s Most bounden and devoted,” or “Fare thee as well as I fare.” Also long gone are the days when explorers attempted to ensure continued support for their voyages from monarchs and benefactors via fawning formal correspondence related to the initial successes of this or that expedition. Francisco Vázquez de Coronado had good reason to end his 1541 letter to King Charles I of Spain, relaying details about parts of what is now the southwestern United States, with a doozy that translates to “Your Majesty’s humble servant and vassal, who would kiss the royal feet and hands.”
But in 2013, when bots outnumber benefactors by a wide margin, the continued and consistent use of antiquated signoffs in email is impossible to justify. At this stage of the game, we should be able to interact with one another in ways that reflect the precise manner of communication being employed, rather than harkening back to old standbys popular during the age of the Pony Express.
I am not an important person. Nonetheless, each week, on average, I receive more than 300 emails. I send out about 500. These messages do not contain the stuff of old-timey letters. They’re about the pizza I had for lunch (horrendous) and must-see videos of corgis dressed in sweaters (delightful). I’m trading thoughts on various work-related matters with people who know me and don’t need to be “Best”-ed. Emails, over time, have become more like text messages than handwritten letters. And no one in their right mind uses signoffs in text messages.
What’s more, because no email signoff is exactly right for every occasion, it’s not uncommon for these add-ons to cause affirmative harm. Some people take offense to different iterations of “goodbye,” depending on the circumstances. Others, meanwhile, can’t help but wonder, “What did he mean by that?” or spend entire days worrying about the implications of a sudden shift from “See you soon!” in one email, to “Best wishes” in the next. So, naturally, we consider, and we overthink, and we agonize about how best to close out our emails. We ask others for advice on the matter, and we give advice on it when asked.
The Internet is littered with articles that examine the strengths and weaknesses of various email signoffs and purport to offer guidance for those who just can’t close the deal. But rather than debating which to use and how best to avoid signoff-related disasters, can’t we all just agree to opt for “none of the above” and finally take comfort in ending our emails with the actual last thing that we want to say?