Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Wikipedia says:

A postscript may be a sentence, a paragraph, or occasionally many paragraphs added to, often hastily and incidentally, after the signature of a letter or (sometimes) the main body of an essay or book.

When all letters were handwritten, and adding a new thought to the letter would have likely involved rewriting the entire letter, a postscript had obvious practicality. Now, however, one can just as easily add the thought to the main text.

share|improve this question
2  
Wikipedia does not seem to expressly exclude electronic mail or suggest that PS applies exclusively to letters written on paper. An e-mail is still a "letter" for all purposes. –  Kris Jan 22 '13 at 12:32
3  
I do not 'compose' but 'write' my emails, following the flow of thought. A post script serves exactly the same purpose in snail mail and e-mail for me. It's another matter that I do go back and edit the message, but only for errors, not for changes in content. –  Kris Jan 22 '13 at 12:35
1  
I think a lot depends on the length and complexity of the email. A PS added to a 6 line email would be daft, incorporate it as you say. However, if you've just drafted a page long email with a dozen or so paragraphs, checked it and proof read it and suddenly have an after thought you want to add, I see nothing at all wrong with adding a PS. –  spiceyokooko Jan 22 '13 at 14:00
    
@spiceyokooko While I appreciate the distinction in the length of the email, I think that formality should also be considered. To me it seems acceptable to add a postscript to an informal email, but sloppy to do so when corresponding formally. I think an email with "a dozen or so paragraphs" is more likely to be a formal in nature. –  Fred Jan 22 '13 at 17:26
    
On second thought, perhaps the postscript serves as a distinction between the formal and the informal as in the example given by J.R. –  Fred Jan 22 '13 at 17:38

3 Answers 3

up vote 22 down vote accepted

I use a P.S. rather often in my emails, when the content of the P.S. is unrelated to the rest of the body of the message. For example, if I was writing two or three paragraphs about a database problem to a colleague, but I knew his wife had been recently released from the hospital, I might end the message with something like:

P.S. I hope your wife is doing better.

That's an easy way to make an abrupt transition to something unrelated to the rest of the message.

Such modern usage isn't driven by an inability to conveniently insert the text (which is easily done electronically) – it's more a matter of how much that closing thought is related to the rest of the message.

P.S. You know you can't believe everything you read on Wikipedia, right?

share|improve this answer
    
Do you put your PS before or after your signature (greetings, name, function, company...)? –  Konerak Jan 22 '13 at 15:12
3  
@Konerak: I'd put it after the greetings & name but before the "company signature block": Best regards, XY <br><br> PS: ... <br><br> --- <br> Dr. X. Y <br> Company Name <br> Phone: .... –  Heinzi Jan 22 '13 at 15:21
    
@J.R. Yes, I wasn't really concerned with the academic rigor of the entry, but rather, with including a generally accepted definition of the word with my question as a point of departure. –  Fred Jan 22 '13 at 17:13
3  
@Fred: Your answer about Wikipedia now has me wondering if you caught how my last question was primarily meant to illustrate the way a P.S. could be used to switch subjects. –  J.R. Jan 22 '13 at 17:41
    
@J.R. Yep, flew right by me. I guess I'm so used to seeing P.S. that I didn't even notice the clever point you were making. Sorry to be so daft. –  Fred Jan 23 '13 at 1:27

You seem to have answered your own question, but it's perhaps worth pointing out that in both email and conventional mail a postscript can be a consciously chosen device for drawing attention to what it contains. What might look like an afterthought to the reader might be a deliberate ploy by the writer.

share|improve this answer
    
This is a good point, and shows that my own thoughts were, at best, an incomplete answer to my question. –  Fred Jan 22 '13 at 17:15

I'm going to contradict the other answers by saying it would just look plain wrong to me.

Now, that's not to say it is necessarily a bad idea - we have two other answers that find it perfectly acceptable.

Logically, it's reasonable as the form came to mean "oh, and also" some time ago, so it would no more have to be after a letter was finished than a teamster would have to have a team of horses.

But it is still going to look wrong to me, and the chances are that I am not unique and there are other people out there who would think it looks wrong.

Of course, if you tried to satisfy everyone in this way, then you'd write nothing. There are times when being seen to follow "the rules" is more important than others, so perhaps it would be worth avoiding sometimes more than others.

share|improve this answer
1  
Can you elaborate? What about it "looks wrong"? –  Nate Eldredge Jan 22 '13 at 17:09
    
It' stands for "post script", but it isn't post script. It could just be a matter of the degree to which I think of the expanded version when I see it. Much like how people differ in their reactions to pleonasms around abbreviations like "ATM Machine". The more the expanded version comes to mind when you see it, the more likely you are going to find it seems wrong to you. –  Jon Hanna Jan 22 '13 at 23:24
    
@JonHanna: I appreciate your point, but "P.S." doesn't sound off to me – despite its original meaning – maybe because of how much the language of email borrows from snail mail lingo? We talk about "mailboxes" and "addresses", and even use envelopes as icons. Heck, if "P.S." feels wrong, I would think "CC:" would feel even wronger, having once stood for 'carbon copy'. Still, I can understand how my no-call on this matter might not be universally shared. –  J.R. Jan 23 '13 at 8:48
1  
@J.R. CC seems okay to me because it's so clearly wrong, that it's clearly a metaphor. It's also one well established from before email existed (though its dying out in those other uses). PS hits the middle for me; not close enough to the original to make sense as an extension, nor so far from it as to be a metaphorical or poetic use. As said though, it's subjective and others will react differently. –  Jon Hanna Jan 23 '13 at 9:41

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.