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
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1619 GMT (0019 HKT)
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2235 GMT (0635 HKT)
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2208 GMT (0608 HKT)
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1621 GMT (0021 HKT)
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1414 GMT (2214 HKT)
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1851 GMT (0251 HKT)
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2207 GMT (0607 HKT)
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0221 GMT (1021 HKT)
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT