If there is one little word whose use dates us, it’s “Dear”.
1. regarded with deep affection; cherished by someone.
▪ used in speech as a way of addressing a person in a polite way. ‘Martin, my dear fellow’
▪ used as part of the polite introduction to a letter, esp. in a formula denoting the degree of formality involved. ‘Dear Sir or Madam’
▪ endearing; sweet. ‘a dear little puppy’
You may have noticed that the word “Dear” is no longer the popular choice for launching email correspondence. I can’t find the smoking memo that decreed that “Dear _____” be replaced by “Hi _____” as the default introductory greeting. But that’s what’s happened.
Think back to when we first moved to email, after growing up with what was known simply as mail. (Now that word requires the pejorative prefix “snail” to differentiate it from the instantaneous electronic version.)
When we first began communicating on digitally connected computers, it was basically the same as writing a letter. Early email started out Old School-style, with the traditional “Dear” followed by Sir, Madam or a name (e.g. John, although apparently the “Dear John Letter” is now commonly sent as a text message.)
Now even the most sober emails open with “Hi”. Other options include “Hi there”, which seems more like a pick-up line than a written greeting. Or “Hey”, which can sound like a prelude to being stopped and searched.
There seems to be no clear rule on when to use which salutation in what contexts. A few believe there’s still a place for “Dear”.
Email Etiquette: Think before you type
Dear, Hello, Hi, To…There is no absolute way to address a contact. For the most part, “Hi” and “Hello” are for personal emails and “Dear” and “To” are reserved for business emails. But whether to use them is optional. In some cases, business people prefer to drop the title of Mr. or Mrs./Ms./Miss because it is overly formal and somewhat outdated. How to address business contacts can be tricky, especially if you don’t know them very well—or at all. Find out how the individual is usually addressed and go with that. Keep it gender neutral.
But most see “Dear” as even too stiff for formal emails.
‘Dear’ is stuck in the print and handwritten age. I don’t think actual people use ‘Dear.’
– Farhad Manjoo, former digital etiquette for slate.com and now The New York Times technology columnist
Actually some actual people still use “Dear”. If you’re among them beware. You may be accused of being old-fashioned and out of date.
The word also implies being of a certain age. I never use ‘Dear’. It’s old-dearish.
– digital marketer Jon King quoted in the BBC’s Should emails open with Dear, Hi or Hey?
Whatever else can be said about “Hi” it is not old-dearish.
In some ways, a Hi’ at the start of an email is the electronic equivalent of jeans and sneakers as the ‘in’ business wear — a symbol of youthful creativity and a rebellious spirit celebrated in contemporary corporate heroes such as Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg… I find the continual casualization of formal correspondence troubling.
– die-hard Dear supporter Alan Fong, The China Post
Defenders of ”Dear”, it’s not just your use of this word that dates you. It’s the very act of writing a letter – or even an email if it’s deemed old-dearish.
I recently asked a 20-something if he had ever written a letter. He thought for a long time before recalling that he once had to write one for a high school English assignment. He hadn’t had occasion to write another since.
For those of us who grew up in the era of handwritten and typed letters sent through the post and delivered to our door, the demise of “Dear” means more than adopting a casual synonym. It signals the end of an era when we had to make an effort to communicate with others. When we didn’t just dash off a few words and use one finger to send it off.
We had to show up at a desk with paper and pen or a typewriter.. And if we made a mistake after writing “Dear” we crossed it out. Or crumpled the paper, threw it in the bin and started over – with “Dear…” Once written, sending the letter was a process that involved buying envelopes and stamps.
My New Old Self gets a bit nostalgic thinking back to how I used to communicate with my handful of dear friends. (As opposed to scores or even hundreds of the Facebook variety.) Those letters nearly always began with “Dear”.
Even if we sat down to write an angry complaint we started with “Dear”. And made sure to say “Please” in demanding our unsatisfactory treatment be remedied.
That’s why I was pleased to discover the website Dear Blank Please Blank (Dear _____, Please ____). The site’s developers say they made it in response to a bad experience. So they ask users to share their own frustrations and appeals for redress. Starting, of course, with “Dear”. Which is not disparaged as old-dearish over at DBPB but apparently still cherished by people of all ages.
So if you are one of those who dearly misses “Dear”, have a chuckle over these letters.