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
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1918 GMT (0318 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says as violence claims three U.S. doctors, the temptation is to despair, but aid to Afghanistan has made it a much better place
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1833 GMT (0233 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says in California, Asian-Americans are against the use of racial criteria in public colleges.
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1844 GMT (0244 HKT)
Heidi Schlumpf says if the Pope did tell an Argentinian woman married to a divorced man that she could take Communion, it may signify a softening of church rules on the divorced and sacraments
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Norcross, Georgia, Chief of Police Warren Summers says the new law that allows guns in bars, churches and schools will have unintended dangerous consequences.
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Mel Robbins says social media is often ruled by haters, and people can be brutally honest.
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1644 GMT (0044 HKT)
Mike Downey says the golf purists can take a hike; the game needs radical changes to win back fans and players.
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Robert Hickey says most new housing development is high-end, catering to high-earners.
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Alexander Motyl says as Russian President Putin snarled at Ukraine, his foreign minister was signing a conciliatory accord with the West. Whatever the game, the accord is a major stand down by Russia
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1229 GMT (2029 HKT)
Les Abend says at every turn, the stowaway teen defied the odds of discovery and survival. What pilot would have thought to look for a person in the wheel well?
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1104 GMT (1904 HKT)
Q & A with artist Rachel Sussman on her new book of photographs, "The Oldest Living Things in the World."
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Martin Blaser says the overuse of antibiotics threatens to deplete our bodies of "good" microbes, leaving us vulnerable to an unstoppable plague--an "antibiotic winter"
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1737 GMT (0137 HKT)
John Sutter asks: Is it possible to eat meat in modern-day America and consider yourself an environmentalist without being a hypocrite?
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Sally Kohn notes that Meb Keflezighi rightly was called an American after he won the Boston Marathon, but his status in the U.S. once was questioned
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1256 GMT (2056 HKT)
Denis Hayes and Scott Denman say on this Earth Day, the dawn of the Solar Age is already upon us and the Atomic Age of nuclear power is in decline
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 2036 GMT (0436 HKT)
Retired Coast Guard officer James Loy says a ship captain bears huge responsibility.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1708 GMT (0108 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the latest strikes are part of an aggressive U.S. effort to target militants, including a bomb maker
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Cynthia Lummis and Peter Welch say 16 agencies carry out national intelligence, and their budgets are top secret. We need to know how they are spending our money.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama knows more than anyone that he has much at stake in the midterm elections.
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Eric Sanderson says if you really want to strike a blow for the environment--and your health--this Earth Day, work to get cars out of cities and create transportation alternatives
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Bruce Barcott looks at the dramatic differences in marijuana laws in Colorado and Louisiana
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery supports the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1817 GMT (0217 HKT)
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1752 GMT (0152 HKT)
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1825 GMT (0225 HKT)
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1250 GMT (2050 HKT)
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
ADVERTISEMENT