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Time to Do Away with "Best" as an Email Sign-Off

03/03/2009 12:20 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In the hierarchy of email signoffs, by far the worst is 'Best'. Maybe it's just me, but nothing displays contempt more succinctly, or says "Leave me the hell alone from this point forward," as concisely as this most reviled of four-letter words. Here's the other encrypted message hidden in this verbal snub: Unlike you, I am too busy and important for a far more acceptable 'All the best'. Two extra words. Would it kill you?

In these troubled times, legions of the scared and unemployed are drawing upon every drop of courage to email even the most tenuous of leads. Nothing takes more confidence -- increasingly in short supply -- than contacting somebody cold. If and when a return email appears in the inbox (the tension of which deserves another column entirely) a little warmth would go a very long way. 'Best' with all of its chilly undertones, assumes power and conveys just enough insult to make the message of annoyance clear.

Meanwhile, the barriers between the privileged and the destitute are falling. We all share the same high wire and it is a terrifying place to be. Today's most powerful could be tomorrow's most hopeless. Put more bluntly, for every person with a corner office, the pavement outside is altogether too visible. Circumstances should be forcing us to move to a higher, more cooperative plane, citizen to citizen. Which means signing off more generously. Which means banning 'Best' from our e-vocabulary. Surely we can do better.

It's not just prospective employers who are over-relying on this infernal sign-off. The word is everywhere, and rarely does it mean best anything. From school letters to bill collectors to perfunctory correspondence with your lawyer or accountant, our societal need for electronic shorthand is slowly stripping our humanity. Best. Best what exactly? Best wishes? Best of luck? These would impart respect or at least a little consideration. The best is yet to come? (Then give me a job interview.) More likely it appears to mean, I wish you the best in your future endeavors as long as they don't involve me. Alone with no ellipsis, 'Best' lets you know where you stand: the bottom of the sign-off food chain, way below Love, xxoo, xx, xo, x, Warm regards, Sincerely yours, and the dubiously perky Cheers.

Today there was an email from Howard Dean -- Howard Dean! -- in my inbox. I was procrastinating so I read the whole thing, which he signed, 'Thank you, Marcia, for all you do'. I have never met Howard Dean, and realize I was one of three or so million recipients of this letter, but all the same, the sign-off was genuinely warm. It was a small gesture, but a noticeable one. Had it been signed 'Best', I would have felt a blast of icy air through my laptop, and had my doubts about the DFA's interpersonal skills.

We are all too rushed, plugged in, ever on the grid, and have more demands on our time than most of us can bear. So when it comes to email, courtesy is easily jettisoned to make way for speed and efficiency. But we could all try to be more conscious of the emailing habits we seem to readily adopt, that keep us disconnected and even more isolated from each other. 'Yours' is more human, 'Fondly' is a trusty perennial which conveys affection but not devotion, and as for abbreviations, nothing beats the military's 'VR', short for 'Very Respectfully', which could do a lot towards making a job-seeker feel human and whole. Pete Best was the only Beatle not to make it past 1962, and I embrace the symbolism: my hope is that 'Best,' the most unsubtle, unfriendly of email cold shoulders, will have a similarly short career.