What your email sign-off really means

LONDON. July 18. KAZINFORM 'Cheers', 'all best', 'warm regards' - having to choose the best way to sign off an email is a minefield. Which one do you use for what occasion?

The world of modern technology is filled with potential pitfalls to snare the unwary: how to keep sexting discreet; how to commit libel on Twitter without adverse consequence; how to stop playing the game Candy Crush.

But there are few elements of modernity as vexing as the question of how to sign off from an email. It's an easy task if you want to look like a passive-aggressive tosser, but if you don't, it's one of the most fraught decisions you'll make - and you have to make it over and over again, every day, knowing that if you slip up you might find yourself on the end of a workplace harassment complaint or scathing mockery from colleagues.

Like many people, I most often go for the safe option: the "cheers". "Cheers, Ben" my emails tend to conclude. The trouble with "cheers" is, first of all, what does it actually mean? Am I literally cheering the person I'm writing to? Am I saying, "hooray!" at the end of my message? Or is it a toast - am I drinking to their health and electronically clinking e-glasses with them? Of course, it's neither. "Cheers" doesn't actually mean anything, and it's also mind-bogglingly unoriginal: all that says to your correspondent is "I have neither the wit nor the inclination to come up with any meaningful way to end this".

There was a time when I attempted to make "cheers" more interesting by imagining that it referred to the popular sitcom starring Ted Danson, and thus began signing off emails by namechecking various 1980s comedies. However, as novel as this is, in the end signing off with "The Golden Girls, Ben" or "Family Ties, Ben" tends to come off a bit unprofessional, especially when dealing with HR.

So what else can we use? You can sign off with "thanks", but that is more often than not just confusing if your email contains no hint of gratitude at all. An email which ends with thanks that isn't thanking anyone for anything is just kind of weird - it's the email sign-off equivalent of someone staring at you for slightly too long.

From there, the options get progressively more problematic. You can sign off with "regards", which means, quite literally, "I have no regard for you at all". Or you can use the more extreme "warmest regards", which means, "never contact me again you insufferable bastard". Then there's "yours", which means, "I don't even know who you are or what you wrote to me about", and its cousin, "yours sincerely", which means, "you owe me money and I will make your life a living hell until I get it".

Some people sign off emails with "best". Not "best wishes", which is used when the emailer is for some reason under the impression they're writing in a Christmas card, but just "best", which is a slightly creepy sign-off, like writing "be seeing you REALLY soon...". Best? Best what?

An email sign-off just shouldn't leave so much to the imagination. Sometimes I use "take care", which I used to think sounded kind, but now I feel carries a similar thinly-veiled threat of violence.

At the worst end of the spectrum are the faux-affectionate sign-offs. Writing "love" is fine when writing to someone you actually love: otherwise you're either going to sound disturbed or sarcastic. Writing "fondly" is almost the same as writing "I hate you".

In the end, perhaps it's best not to make these awkward, insincere attempts at human connection, and simply be basic and to the point: "goodbye". This effectively conveys the intended message - "I am going away now" - while also carrying the slightest hint that soon, you may be dead and everyone will be sorry.

And what more could you want from an email than that?




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