Best. Oh, I loathe that smarmy little word when it’s rounding off an email. It’s so perfunctory, cold, indifferent, curt.
Excuse me, but “Best” what? What concluding noun are we talking about here? To me it just screams, “Can’t be bothered”, implying a distinct drop in enthusiasm levels.
A group of writer mates has had a giggle about it more than once because it can be a chilling barometer of how well you’re doing. If you’ve been shortlisted for a prestigious award or the big chain stores are stocking you, it’s likely you won’t be getting that miserly little “Best” haunting the end of your publisher’s emails. You could well be basking in “Warmest regards” or “Hoorahs!” and even “Love” (the latter is usually reserved for a spot on the Sunday Times/New York Times bestseller lists). But if you’re late with a manuscript, have been conveying your insecurities once too often or there’s no hope in hell you’ll be earning out your advance, then you may well be on the receiving end of a “Best”. And the author, at that point, could sense that the worm has turned.
You judge someone within seconds of reading an email, which is why sign-off subtleties are so fascinating. When a perfunctory “Best” comes from an English business associate, it may even make you think they don’t want to see you for a while — a bit like when you hear those magic words “Would you like another cup of tea?” in a London sitting room and know instinctively that it means “Would you go now please?”
A recent Bloomberg report concurs — it has careers expert Paul MacKenzie-Cummins proclaiming “Best” anything is a total cop-out. He says it’s part of a wider trend of “vulgarised and lazy” language in emails, which comes across as insincere. In the old days, rules were simple: “Yours sincerely” if you’d actually met the person being written to; “Yours faithfully” if you hadn’t. Few use those sentiments anymore — in fact, you’ll be marked as a right old dinosaur if you do. Text-speak has steadily encroached upon the world of letters and emails, and you’re more likely to get KR for “Kind regards” or BW for “Best wishes”. Or nothing. Full stop. Which brings me to those firing off missives with no greeting or send-off whatsoever. It’s like being interrupted and dragged into the middle of a conversation at a dinner party, rudely, without any context. It’s a shout of a message, a bullying demand. This mode is often used by readers utilising the email address at the end of this column, when they take frothing umbrage at what I have to say. They’ll launch straight into their attack, as if the recipient is not worth any acknowledgment in either greeting or send-off. A greeting conveys deference, respect for a fellow human being. It’s a basic form of politeness.
If “Best” strikes me as too coldly British, then “Have a nice day” seems too sweetly, stickily American. On a Friday, I’m rather partial to that matey Aussie throwback to an iconic advertising campaign: “’Avagoodweekend”. And I also think we Australians can get away with “Cheers” in a way that other more formal nationalities can’t. It covers a multiple of electronic social situations and is my own preferred mode of sign-off (yet a rather posh English mate can’t stand it — she says it’s too much like being down at the pub). And an embarrassing confession: I’m a bit too liberal with the “Love” sign-off. Perhaps it’s that girl thing of just wanting to be nice and have people like you; so not only does the chap get the love, but editors and accountants too, and instinctively I know there’s something wrong with this. Yet it was good enough for Noel Coward. His missives ended with flamboyant declarations of “Love, love, love”, or “Your affectionate, but regal …” or “The quaintest of quaints”. Deliciously bonkers. So here’s to the utterly unique sign-off, the best email ending of the lot.