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I sometimes get emails (e.g. from professional contacts or people I don't know well) which simply start with

FirstName,

[ ... letter body ... ]

They don't use "Dear FirstName," or "Hello FirstName," just "FirstName,".

This always feels quite harsh to me. (Omitting the opening completely in a quick email wouldn't feel that way, but using the name only does.)

Can this be considered impolite? Is it bad form? Is it usual? What should I read into this (about the attitude of the writer)?

I realize that these things can depend more on the culture than the language. I usually get these letters from Americans. Is it the most usual way of opening an informal email in the U.S.?

  • Funny, I sometimes use that when writing to people in English speaking countries, but would never use it (aside maybe for close friends) if I were to write, for instance, to someone in Italy, let alone in France... – nico Jun 15 '12 at 9:02
  • @nico I never use this, even in English. In my own language it would be considered impolite. I was wondering if there's a "hidden meaning" when someone addresses me like this in an email in English. I have never lived in an English speaking country and I don't have the cultural sensibility to distinguish between nuances... – Szabolcs Jun 15 '12 at 9:12
  • My impression would be: "Let's have a very serious talk. Normally, I like you, but this time it seems you screwed up bad. What do you have to say for yourself?" – SF. Jun 15 '12 at 9:46
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    @SF.: My boss writes me emails every week. Almost always, he starts with a simple first name, – that's it. If he were to add some word in front, I might think I was in trouble! I suppose it all depends on what you're accustomed to seeing. – J.R. Jun 15 '12 at 10:50
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    @nico: I'm not saying it's impolite! I'm saying that suddenly the person decides to skip a customary nicety; they are still perfectly polite, but also dead serious; as unpleasant as only possible while still adhering to rules of savior-vivre. – SF. Jun 15 '12 at 14:39
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Szabolcs,

It is considered an acceptable way of opening an email. I found an online guideline that explained it like this:

enter image description here

So, some writers may think that the use of Dear sounds unnecessarily formal (or perhaps even affectionate). I'm rather sure that no rudeness is meant, nor should the construct be interpreted as subtle rudeness.

As for how I opened my answer to you: no hidden meaning there – I only used that as for illustrative purposes. I assure you, I meant it in the most polite sense, as I think you've asked a very fair and legitimate question.

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    Avoidance of shows of affection is a good point. – Qube Jun 15 '12 at 9:54
  • I've received correspondence in this fashion and normally take it in the tone that is as if the writer has something they deem important to tell me with an urgency that requires forgoing formalities. Then it usually tends to be some political, humanitarian, or even financial message. Which, a good amount of the time, is important to the writer but not to me. It's not impolite, but that it has a less soft tone is true. I always sense a small degree of emphasis or stress, and I think that's the intended feel. – psosuna Feb 13 at 0:51
  • Strangely I feel that there is a difference between the "Yiota, you were right about the prices" form and the "Yiota" on a line of its own followed by "You were right about the prices" on another line. The first feels informal, the second feels odd. – BoldBen Feb 13 at 11:25
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It is difficult to say. It could convey: nothing; that the writer is unsure of the salutation convention (a hypercorrect use of formality?); be a direct way of addressing you (if you are on familiar terms or well-known to each other in a playful sense -maybe in the same way that good friends sometimes use family names to address each other: 'Smith,' 'Jones,' etc); or could be suggestive of displeasure with you or your conduct.

As a rule, a 'dear' or 'hello' would seem to mitigate against negative inference. However, some consider salutations as unnecessary in e-mails as the 'To:' field fulfils the stating of the name. Despite that view, I think a greeting is nice and would always use one.

Are there any languages where there is no salutation in written correspondence?

2

I come from an English-speaking country (Canada), but have worked abroad in a few different ones as well... addressing by name only is actually a huge pet peeve of mine.

From my experience in mgmt. consulting (going on 6 years now), I find that people who open with "Hello/Hi/Hey/etc. First_Name(s)," tend to overall be nicer, more respectful, and easier to deal with. I don't think it's a coincidence - though sometimes might be an exception (same for the reverse).

I would have to assume it's a cultural thing unfortunately - where in North America we're probably known to be a bit more work-obsessed, translating into a bit less time and/or respect for our peers.

Anyway - all that is to say - if you have the time, will, and decency, PLEASE try and address people politely. The world needs it.

protected by Community Jun 14 at 10:25

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