"Dear"-ly departed: a vanishing salutation

Another sign of the times: it turns out that “Dear” is becoming, in popular e-mail correspondence, a four-letter word.

From the Wall Street Journal:

When Abraham Lincoln wrote to Ulysses S. Grant in July 1863, after a key victory during the Civil War, he began his letter, “My dear General.”

When Giselle Barry emailed a throng of reporters recently to tell them about an important development regarding her congressman boss, she started the message, “Hey, folks.”

Like many modern communicators, Ms. Barry, a spokeswoman for Rep. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, has nixed the salutation “dear” in her emails.

“Dear is a bit too intimate and connotes a personal relationship,” she said.

Ms. Barry said she wants to keep her business communications with the press at “the utmost and highest level of professionalism.”

Across the Internet the use of dear is going the way of sealing wax. Email has come to be viewed as informal even when used as formal communication, leaving some etiquette experts appalled at the ways professional strangers address one another.

People who don’t start communications with dear, says business-etiquette expert Lydia Ramsey, “lack polish.”

“They come across as being abrupt,” says Ms. Ramsey, who founded a Savannah, Ga., etiquette consultancy called Manners That Sell.

“It sets the tone for that business relationship, and it shows respect,” she says. “Email is so impersonal it needs all the help it can get.”

But to Kevin Caron, the word dear seems girlie. While he may begin an occasional email to a female family member with dear, Mr. Caron, a sculptor in Phoenix, would never use it when writing a man, even a client.

“Guys talking to guys—I’m sorry, that’s against the code,” says Mr. Caron, a 50-year-old former trucker and auto-repair-shop worker.

Oh dear.  Read the rest. And then write a letter to someone you know.  And start with “dear,” okay?


  1. I save “dear” for people who are actually dear to me; friends and family members. At work I start e-mail correspondence with the person’s first name followed by a comma, unless I don’t know them well, then it is Mr. or Ms.
    I don’t know why one would call someone one knows slightly or not at all “dear”. But that’s just a personal preference.

  2. Dear Deacon Greg,

    I tend to use the word “Dear” when writing a letter, or an email in lieu of a letter, because that was how I was taught in school. It is ingrained in me that that is proper letter writing etiquette. What I suspect is that it is no longer being taught… perhaps etiquette of any sort is no longer being taught, if one can judge by the way many people act toward one another these days.

    Sincerely (is this still used?),
    Deacon Dean

  3. I write letters. I have a pen-pal in Spain whom I have written to since 9th grade (I’m now graduated from college and in search of a job. Prayers for that, if you would please remember me!) I also used to regularly write to my bf, when I can come up with something to write about.

    Anyway, I write with a fountain pen, on paper, and then I seal it with sealing wax (yes, you can still buy it!) …and I always start with “Dear” (more formal,) or “My Dearest”.

    …I’m a 22 year old born in the tooootally wrong century.

  4. JOHN E DEAN says:

    No one has mentioned “Dearly Beloved.” Does anyone else remember that?

  5. ” … Anyway, I write with a fountain pen, on paper, and then I seal it with sealing wax …”

    God bless you, Geeklet. So you do not feel alone, some of us feel we are not only born in the wrong century, but on the wrong planet :)

    Your fond endorsement of fountain pens and paper brought to mind a time when we bought thick creamy Eaton Crane & Pike stationery with personal letterheads. We mused about what colour of ink best reflected our moods and personality. A good fountain pen became accustomed to the writer’s hand. Writing with pen and ink forced us to construct sentences in our minds rather than rely on backspace and delete. A much simpler age.

    You have inspired me to track down a fountain pen and some thick creamy paper. Now, I wonder if Eaton Crane and Pike still exists …

  6. ron chandonia says:

    I usually start email without a greeting at all, or perhaps a “Hi _____ !” greeting. A long time back, I used to start with “Dear” but noticed nobody else was doing it, so I decided there must be a new convention in the making to go with the technology of the times.

  7. Dear Geeklet,

    Using a fountain pen and sealing wax is awesome! I will say a prayer for your job hunting.

    By the way, for those who are interested in old penmanship styles, check out Spencerian Penmanship by Platt Rogers Spencer from Amazon.com

    If I could only get my signature to look like John Hancock’s.

  8. @Geeklet…Geeklet, welcome to the world of fountain lovers! I, too, use a fountain pen almost exclusively and have sealing wax that I use for very special communications. I am a high school teacher and have acquired quite a collection of fountain pens, which I use on a daily basis…one with blue ink for regular writing and one with a color for grading.

    @Donna…There are great sites/companies such as Levenger, Colorado Pen Company, Fahrney’s, Paradise Pen Company, etc., who sell fountain pens, from less expensive daily pens to out of the statosphere expensive collectibles. You can also find restored vintage pens at places such as http://www.avalonpens.com/.

  9. I always start emails with “Dear”. I always did and I always will. But comments, like this one, I merely start.
    I am not fond of being addressed with “Hi” as a start although I do receive such emails. I never reply to them in the same manner because I belong to those who were taught always to begin with “Dear”.
    What about addressing someone as “Dear Madam”? Is that mode of address now regarded as insulting in some way? I have a feeling that it is, although “Dear Sir” is still a polite way of beginning a formal letter.

  10. Being of the old school, my salutation begins with “Dear” if I am writing to people of my generation.

    In the rest of my correspondence I begin as usual, then cross out “dear’ and replace it with, “Hi.”

    After reflecting a bit I cross out the person’s name. Then feeling this might be a bit breezy I cross out “Hi.”

    After reflecting a bit more, I cross out “Sincerely.” Then to remedy the brusqueness and give it that personal touch, I cross out my last name.

    The I press send and hope for the best.

    Naturally I will mention all this in confession as discourtesy.

  11. To whom it may concern:
    I feel awkward begining all my emails with “Dear___”, so I normally – if it’s informal or if I’m passing along a joke or forwarding an email – just start with my thoughts and no salutation. However, if the correspondence is formal or professional or business, one should always begin with a formal salutation. Alas, I, too, have been lax in my performance of this simple courtesy. I thank you for this gentle reminder, and intend to improve my etiquette at once.

  12. I used to be repulsed by emails the began with “Hi, Daniel,” but I’ve slowly succumbed, and now leave the “dear” off of my work emails, but generally use the salutation in my private correspondence. That being said; In a society living under the constant fear of “sensitivity training,” is it any wonder that we treat each other with less warmth?

  13. I try to use Dear in more formal emails, but perhaps I will try and use it more.

  14. I know an old gentlemen. Lives in Africa most of the time. House without running water or electricity, but a number of well-stocked bookshelves. Always in a jacket and tie. Mild-mannered, formal, former headmaster. When greeted with”Hi,” he replies “Excuse me, but I am not a ‘hi’ sort of man; I am a ‘good afternoon’ sort of man. What he means, of course, is “Good afternoon, Sir,” but some things are better left to the understanding of the interlocutor.

  15. Dear is a term of politeness, of courtesy. It is not intended to be intimate, but is intended as a mark of affection, which we should have for our fellow man made in the image and likeness of God.
    It is indeed sad that even among conservatives, dear has become archaic. If we want to improve respect for the unborn, the disabled and even the dead we should at least on a personal level reinstate the use of dear. It will take a lot more than that to get the job done, but it would be a good start.


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