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How can we refer to the polite phrase used at the beginning of a letter (email in my specific context)?

For example, we may start our letter:

Dear Bob, I hope that you're well and had a nice weekend.

If we want to make reference to the line

I hope that you're well and had a nice weekend

in such a way that we could say:

I often wonder how to begin a letter of bad news, but my [interjection] stands genuine non the less

The term "interjection" doesn't seem like a good fit here. Is there a word that describes the polite phrases we often use to begin our letters?

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If I understand the question well, these aren't phrases, they are sentences. I am not aware of a specific term, but they look like model sentences to me. –  Irene Jun 3 '13 at 10:53
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Perhaps "opening" or "opening line" or "opening sentence"? –  John Wickerson Jun 3 '13 at 10:59
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Platitude? Filler? –  TimLymington Jun 3 '13 at 11:21
    
Platitude, that sounds like the right kind of word. –  Jamie Dixon Jun 3 '13 at 11:55
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In grade school, we learned this is the 'salutation'. I've never heard it described otherwise. –  Roddy of the Frozen Peas Jun 3 '13 at 18:01
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4 Answers

up vote 30 down vote accepted

Either 'greeting' or 'salutation' would fit.

From the online dictionary, meaning 3 is appropriate:

sal·u·ta·tion (sly-tshn) n.

  1. a. A polite expression of greeting or goodwill. b. salutations Greetings indicating respect and affection; regards.
  2. A gesture of greeting, such as a bow or kiss.
  3. A word or phrase of greeting used to begin a letter or message.
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Don't these refer to expressions like "Dear X" or "Best wishes"? OP is asking about full sentences after the greeting. –  Irene Jun 3 '13 at 10:52
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The salutation can cover all of this, eg. "Dear Irene, I hope this comment finds you in rude health." –  Rory Alsop Jun 3 '13 at 10:53
    
+1 - salutation nails it. –  Jaydles Jun 4 '13 at 12:02
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pleasantries
plural of pleas·ant·ry (Noun)

A polite social utterance; a civility: exchanged pleasantries before getting down to business.

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Upon reading the question, my mind immediatly jumped to 'preamble'.

pre·am·ble
/ˈprēˌambəl/

A preliminary or preparatory statement; an introduction. The introductory part of a statute or deed, stating its purpose, aims, and justification. Synonyms preface - introduction - proem - foreword - prelude

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I don't know of a word that describes this kind of remark (sentence) when it is made in a written context such as a letter. On the other hand, the term phatic is used to describe similar sorts of remarks when they are spoken. "How are you?" is frequently used as a phatic utterance; consider, for example, the telephone sales-person who greets you when you answer the phone with "Hello Ms Smith, How are you today?" The correct (social) response is "Fine, thank you", not a truthful answer that describes your state of well-being. The reason is that the question is phatic; that is (to quote the OED), "it serves to establish or maintain social relationships rather than to impart information, communicate ideas".

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You took the words right out of my mouth. Phatic communication (sometimes called phatic communion) is a normal part of everyday life. It's small talk. It's utterances that are taken for granted because they are so common and so useful in greasing the wheels of interpersonal communication. We all use'em: in greetings, in leave-takings ("Well, I'd better be going"), in escaping a boring person ("Would you excuse me?"), and so on. Socially acceptable lies; unconscious utterances; "weather talk"--they are all instances of phatic communion. –  rhetorician Jun 4 '13 at 1:32
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