Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Is 'Dear' dead?

By Bob Greene, CNN Contributor
July 30, 2012 -- Updated 0446 GMT (1246 HKT)
 Bob Greene says in an age of texting and emailing, The
Bob Greene says in an age of texting and emailing, The "Dear" salutation increasingly seems formal and even too intimate.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bob Greene: Does the salutation "Dear" have a place in modern correspondence?
  • In digital communication, especially texting, it's formal, archaic, too intimate, he says
  • But etiquette experts say it still important to correspondence, it's impolite to be too casual
  • Greene: That may be true, but reality is fewer people use it; it's likely on its way out

Editor's note: CNN Contributor Bob Greene is a bestselling author whose 25 books include "Late Edition: A Love Story" and "And You Know You Should Be Glad: A True Story of Lifelong Friendship." He appears on "CNN Newsroom" Sundays during the 5 p.m. (ET) hour.

(CNN) -- Dear reader:

Actually, that's the subject of today's column.

That salutation.

Because there is a real question that has quietly been building -- perhaps not the most important question in this tense old world of ours, but a question nonetheless:

Is "Dear" an endangered species?

It would appear to be. You may have noticed that fewer and fewer people begin their letters and notes with "Dear." Some holdouts -- I'm among them -- do, but this may be mostly out of lifetime habit. Even people who grew up using the traditional salutation -- middle-of-the-road, go-by-the-book people -- now regularly begin their notes with "Hi."

This is mostly a function of the digital-communications age. "Dear," which always looked fine atop a business letter, or a handwritten note, is increasingly seen as archaic and old-fashioned on a computer screen or on a smartphone or mobile device.

The pending disappearance of "Dear" is a sea change in the way we write to each other -- yet when you think about it, there are few logical reasons arguing for a longer life for that particular word. We've always used it, just because we've always used it.

But step back for a second and think about it -- about addressing business associates, or people you've never met, as "Dear." It has worked commendably in letters, but imagine using it with those same people in face-to-face situations.

Picture yourself walking up to someone in an airport or at a business meeting and automatically calling him or her "dear." You might be greeted with a withering glare, if not a punch in the nose. And imagine what would happen if you went around your office every day, in person, calling people "dear." You'd be taking a quick trip to Human Resources.

The reason "Dear" may be destined to die is that it faces a dilemma much like an army confronted with a pincers movement in war: On the one flank, written-on-paper, mailed letters -- the kind that have always been started with "Dear" -- are rapidly disappearing, as use of the U.S. mail itself dwindles. On the other flank, many people who use e-mail decided a long time ago to go with nothing at all, or with "Hi" (followed by the recipient's name), as a reflection of the new informality and ease of note-writing. With text messages, the idea of a salutation doesn't even come up.

(And of course, there is the ever-popular "Hey" salutation, used by those who think that "Hi" is much too stodgy.)

Not wanting to trust my own judgment on this vital matter, I put together an ad hoc advisory panel of five etiquette teachers and coaches from around the country (yes, even in our hail-to-sloppiness era, such people exist). They pondered the "Dear" question.

Watch: British etiquette for London Games

"Even with the new normal of being informal, the proper way to start an e-mail is with 'Dear,'" said Cynthia Lett, director of the Lett Group, a protocol training company in Silver Spring, Maryland. The time to switch to "Hey," she said, is "when we get to the point of dropping by each other's houses without an invitation and opening the refrigerator to see what is available for a snack."

Patricia Rossi, an etiquette coach based in the Tampa Bay area of Florida, said, "I really think it is best to open an e-mail with 'Dear Mr. Moore,' as it's important to start out with a more respectful and formal salutation. Mr. Moore will respond in a manner that he wishes to set the tone with."

Barbara Pachter, an etiquette expert in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, said, "E-mail doesn't technically require a salutation, since it is in memo format. And when e-mail first appeared, many people did not use a salutation. Eventually people started adding a salutation to appear friendlier and help the tone of their writings."

Jacqueline Whitmore, who advises on etiquette from her base in Palm Beach, Florida, said, "In my professional opinion you can never go wrong when you're too formal, but you can often be dead wrong if you're too casual."

And Paul Siddle, whose etiquette-and-protocol operation is based in Richmond, Virginia, responded to my question about "Dear" possibly being anachronistic by saying: "Anachronistic? Well, we are certainly becoming a more relaxed society, but there will always be a right way and a wrong way to do things. And using appropriate salutations, and closings, in written communications is the right way to do it."

Most e-mailers and text-messagers do not consult etiquette coaches, though, and with the demise of words-on-paper letters, the future of "Dear" appears dire. There are, it should be noted, some ethereal and symbolic forces working against "Hi" in other parts of society:

When Katie Couric took over the "CBS Evening News" in 2006, she at first began each broadcast with "Hi, everyone," to send a signal of friendliness and non-pontification. The "Hi" soon enough went away; evidently the word was too breezy for viewers across the United States who had long watched the evening news on the networks, and were accustomed to "Good evening."

But an e-mail is not the evening news, and perhaps it is time to begin saying our inevitable fond farewell to "Dear," and to say that farewell before the salutation has already become dearly departed.

Thank you for reading.

With my most sincere good wishes until we meet anon.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

Why should the press be polite to presidents?

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bob Greene.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 12, 2014 -- Updated 1815 GMT (0215 HKT)
To prevent war with North Korea over a comedy, what would Dennis Rodman say to Kim Jong Un? Movie critic Gene Seymour weighs in.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
Michael Werz says in light of the spying cases, U.S. is seen as a paranoid society that can't tell friends from foes.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Eric Liu explains why in his new book, he calls himself "Chinese American" -- without a hyphen.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1512 GMT (2312 HKT)
John Bare says hands-on learning can make a difference in motivating students to acquire STEM skills.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1320 GMT (2120 HKT)
Karl Alexander and Linda Olson find blacks and whites live in urban poverty with similar backgrounds, but white privilege wins out as they grow older.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1620 GMT (0020 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says a poll of 14 Muslim-majority nations show people are increasingly opposed to extremism.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spending more on immigation enforcement isn't going to stop the flow of people seeking refuge in the U.S.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 2048 GMT (0448 HKT)
Faisal Gill had top security clearance and worked for the Department of Homeland Security. That's why it was a complete shock to learn the NSA had him under surveillance.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1841 GMT (0241 HKT)
Kevin Sabet says the scientific verdict is that marijuana can be dangerous, and Colorado should be a warning to states contemplating legalizing pot.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
World War I ushered in an era of chemical weapons use that inflicted agonizing injury and death. Its lethal legacy lingers into conflicts today, Paul Schulte says
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1137 GMT (1937 HKT)
Tom Foley and Ben Zimmer say Detroit's recent bankruptcy draws attention to a festering problem in America -- cities big and small are failing to keep up with change.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1201 GMT (2001 HKT)
Mel Robbins says many people think there's "something suspicious" about Leanna Harris. But there are other interpretations of her behavior
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
Amy Bass says Germany's rout of Brazil on its home turf was brutal, but in defeat the Brazilian fans' respect for the victors showed why soccer is called 'the beautiful game'
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2107 GMT (0507 HKT)
Aaron Carroll explains how vaccines can prevent illnesses like measles, which are on the rise
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0008 GMT (0808 HKT)
Aaron Miller says if you think the ongoing escalation between Israel and Hamas over Gaza will force a moment of truth, better think again
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1903 GMT (0303 HKT)
Norman Matloff says a secret wage theft pact between Google, Apple and others highlights ethics problems in Silicon Valley.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2237 GMT (0637 HKT)
The mother of murdered Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khder cries as she meets Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, West Bank on July 7, 2014.
Naseem Tuffaha says the killing of Israeli teenagers has rightly brought the world's condemnation, but Palestinian victims like his cousin's slain son have been largely reduced to faceless, nameless statistics.
ADVERTISEMENT