November 22, 2009

Valedictions II: Five Ways to Leave Your Letter

This is the second post in a three part guest series by PNT.
Last Sunday, I ruminated on the beauty of a well-chosen valediction. Sure, email obviates the need for a signature, and many workaday emails don't benefit from cleverness. But when writing goes beyond mere communication and becomes correspondence, a little more flourish is appropriate. The challenge is to take a few extra moments, play with ideas, and see if you can't surprise yourself and you reader with something clever. Here are five ideas to get you started:

image via

The Formal Closing
When doing the professional thing, I find that “Sincerely,” is workable, but, if read literally, could be too touchy feely, particularly when you’re cold calling. “Cordially” is a another accepted standby. While its denotation feels a bit cold, it’s become as standard as a black suit and just as safe. Sometimes “Thank you” can feel like a way out of a closing, but to me that can feel informal, even presumptuous. What you really want is something that conveys an unambiguously positive and acceptable sentiment. How about respect? I find that “Respectfully” is very appropriate, and helps get out of the rut.

The pledge:
It’s not often that we get the opportunity to be dramatic, so we should seize it when it comes. The pledge asserts common bonds, background, or endeavor between reader and writer. PostMuse saw this one coming last week.
In fraternity,
In solidarity,
Yours in struggle, (Title of a book on the feminist perspective on racism and anti-Semitism)
Yours in Christ, (Common priest's valediction)
Yours in service, (Order of the Arrow, Boy Scouts of America traditional valediction)
Yours in friendship,

~ (“The Squiggle”)
The squiggle is a useful non-answer with a tendency to be abused. Found just before the perpetrator’s name, it’s a denotation-free anchor to keep the signature from floating around in the blank space at the bottom of the page. The squiggle is the equivalent of telling reporters "no comment." While suboptimal, it can get you out of a jam.

The unfinished sentence:
For a touch of drama, construct the last sentence so that your signature ends the letter. I appreciate the approach used by Miss Margaret Hukill Taylor in her letter to her Goucher college former classmates in 1921:

“...We like a certain class of tramps, so you will find a warm welcome from

Margaret Hukill Taylor”

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The verbal flourish:
Rapidly becoming my favorite, another way to close is with a clever or inspiring quasi-non-sequitor that relates to the context. Discussing paintball plans with my brother ended with "Lock and load," and an email submitting a manuscript at 4:15 am ended with "Daylight come and me wanna go home,". It needn't really be related in topic, only in tone. To me, done right, the reader of the verbal flourish will hear the writers voice in their head. actually has a whole mess of letter closings (really?!), and many of them under "With a Twist" (informal but SFW) and "On the Edgy Side" (would make nuns blush) fall into this category. My letter submitting this to Everyday Correspondence--after long delay--ended "Not dead yet, feels happy, and doesn't want to go onto the cart,". Some ideas:
Alive and kicking,
Asking that you treat me no differently than the Queen,
Exit stage right,
May the wombat of happiness snuffle through your underbrush, (Ancient Aboriginal blessing)
May you live in interesting times, (Chinese curse)
Never surrender,
Strength and honor, (From Gladiator; respond with "Courage and Wisdom,")
Straight, no chaser,

Next week, Part III: Historic Valedictions; Letter closings from those who know best and those who should know better.

PNT is a full time law student, part time gentleman adventurer, and inveterate logophile who currently hangs his hat in Washington, D.C.


PostMuse said...

I love the unfinished sentence and verbal flourish!

You say you want a revolution,

The Missive Maven said...

May the wombat of happiness snuffle through your underbrush,


That makes my day.

I gotta go check out

3 of my faves:

See you at the mailbox,
By the might of the pen,
Fare thee well,

James said...

After a brief visit to, my new favorite pro forma closing is:

Yours until further notice,


Anonymous said...

Hi! Found this site when looking or "Cordially" as a valediction, which seems not as comme as I thought and which I prefer to "Yours.." (which I find to personal) for business/government letters. On another thought, though I'm not for cursing, whether verbally or in writing, I couldn't help but think that "Alive and a$! kicking" might just work the next time I write a close friend with whom I haven't had contact with for a long time. :)