Herald and Journal Herald & Journal, June 1, 1998

To be dear or not to be, truly

By MYRON HEUER

I remember a class we had during my freshman year in high school. I think it was titled Junior Business.

Anyway, it taught you how to do certain things in life; like how to write a check, simple bookkeeping, how to write a personal letter, how to write a business letter, plus other things. Really an important class. I don't suppose they teach that class by that name anymore. Since then I've always wondered why proper letter writing should start with "dear" and end with "sincerely." Why?

Very few people I write to are dear anything, nor am I sincerely theirs. "Yours truly" is another one, or "as always." Always what?

Even if you don't like the person you're writing to, and even if you haven't laid everything on the line in your letter, it's best to address the person as "dear" and end it with "sincerely."

I don't go any further than that. I don't begin my letter with "Dear Mr. Jones," or end it with "very sincerely," or "sincerely yours." Just plain dear and sincerely is good enough for me.

The word "dear" in the case of letter writing does not have an affectionate meaning. If you want to use affection, sign off "with love" as so many people now do. Sometimes, if I'm not sincere or yours truly, I don't put anything on the close . . . just my name. They'll know if I'm sincere or not . . . truly they do.

A friend of mine starts out his letters to me with "brother." I'm not his brother, but I guess he feels like I am a brother to him. I'll accept that. By the way, my brother uses dear.

One problem bigger than the dear and sincerely one is whether to call a person Mr., Mrs., Miss, Ms., or call them by his or her first name. It seems nice and friendly to use the first name, even when it isn't really proper because you don't know the person you're writing to.

Another big problem is when you don't know the gender of the person to whom you're about to complain about something. Do you say Dear Sir, Dear Madam, or Dear Person? I would think that women would object to being called Madam. It means the boss of a house of . . . well, you know what I mean.

I don't think we should change the dear and sincerely way of writing letters. What would you replace it with. . . "Hey?" People greet each other that way now. And then sign off the letter with "later?" No, I'll stick with dear and sincerely, or as always, or how about "regards?"

Now that we know how to get started and how to end a letter, all we have to do is fill in the middle part. Maybe we'll cover that in a future column.


I've always wondered . . . Why do they lock gas station bathrooms? Are they afraid someone will clean them?


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