What Do You Say When It’s Over?

"Quill etc" by Flickr user Studentofrhythm, used under Creative Commons license.

Today I was jotting off an email to a client and closed, as is often my habit, with the word “Cheers.” I typed it and then I looked at it and wondered, “why the hell do I do this?”

Depending on the context, I sometimes also close with either “Best” or “All the best” or, when it makes sense, “Thanks.” Excepting the latter, I have no idea why I use any of these closings on such a regular basis.

Interestingly, I only use any of them in business-related emails. When I write to friends or family, I don’t use closings. I either just insert a dash and then my name or, in some quick exchanges, nothing after the message body at all. (And I mean nothing: I have Gmail set up to insert a signature block with my full name, phone number, and professional web site, and sometimes, when dashing off a message to a friend or relative, I’ll actually take the trouble to erase it, I suppose so that no one will think I am gloating over my glamorous station in life.)

But with business emails, I usually use one of the aforementioned closings. Why? The difference seems to be the extent to which I am trying to control how I present myself. To friends and family, I’m not trying to present myself at all-or perhaps, more accurately, I’m trying to present myself as someone who isn’t trying to present himself.

So how do I want to present myself to clients and business contacts? That’s an interesting question, one I don’t have a clear answer for. I mean, I know, but at a very elemental, kind of instinctive level. It’s not something I’ve ever tried to put into words before. Trying now, just off the cuff, I guess I’d say I’m going for some combination of cool, confident, in control, and glad but by no means desperate for business, with all of this in some way adding up to a bargain at whatever it is they’re paying me.

I can’t say when all of this resulted in the impulse to start closing emails with “Best” or “Cheers,” though. I imagine the anthropologists can or will one day be able to trace the arc of such emailing customs. I have a vague memory that, in the early days of email, we all treated messages more like letters and so probably used closings like “Sincerely” or “I beg to remain, Sir, your most humble and obedient servant.”

Then, as email messages began to take a more fundamental role in our day-to-day communications, their family resemblance to snail-mail faded away, feature by feature. I recently worked for a man who demanded that we type the date at the top of our work emails, but I think he’d be the first to admit that he was being self-consciously and rather proudly old fashioned. (Not to mention Scottish.)

I can’t remember when I first received an email closed with “Best” or “Cheers,” but I liked it at the time. Some charmer had gotten the idea to start gesturing at the old courtesies again, and these two closings seemed to me the perfect way to do it. They sounded at once polite and at the same time meaningless, a little out of tune, as if some moon colony started by Miss Manners were finally getting back in touch with Earth.

I was right that they sounded a little unfamiliar. Doing some research just now, I learned that the Wikipedia entry on valedictions-which is what these are, apparently-includes “Best” and “Cheers” among a list of such closings that “are used in casual email but very rarely in letters.”

At any rate, for me “Best” and “Cheers” are starting to feel played out. I’m particularly dissatisfied with “Cheers” for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on. Is it just that it feels a little cheekily exhortatory, like “have a nice day”? Or its tone of unseriousness? After I asked Twitter for help finding some replacements, someone commented: “when people write “cheers” I always wonder if they’re drinking right then.”

Here are some of the other suggestions I received:

“Together in pain”.

“Unified in hatred of Sutton Stokes”.

I think “peace” is making a comeback.

I’m sure this is very dated but for guys I thought it was “Later, Dude” and gals, “Chat later”.

Time to adopt TXT speak. TTYL, TTYS, GTG, BRB. You might even turn “All the best” into ATB

I sign all my emails “Boo-yah!”

I use “Best” or “Best regards” or occasionally “Warmest regards”

All quite helpful, but none of them really do it for me. Any suggestions?

What do you say when it’s over, and why?

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