The Best Email Sign-Off Ever

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

The subject of salutations and sign-offs has been a question of email etiquette for almost as long as email has existed. What’s the best way to greet someone? There’s “dear,” and “hi,” and “hello,” and “yo,” and “heyyyy.” The right choice comes down to who the recipient is. Then how to end a message? That depends, too. My work inbox is littered with sign-offs like: best, cheers, sincerely, respectfully, warmly, and so on. Most of my friends treat emails like text messages and don’t sign their names at all.

In doing research for my new story about the future of email, I came across a delightful 1983 New York Times article by the columnist William Safire that explored the question of electronic greetings at a time when email was still fairly new. Safire wondered whether email might produce its own platform-specific greeting—sort of the way Alexander Graham Bell apparently wanted “ahoy hoy” to be the preferred greeting on the telephone.

Safire concluded that “dear” is too stuffy, “ahoy” is not suitable, “hi there” is immature, and “hello” is too telephone-ish. Just write the person’s name to start, he says. Simple. His humorous choice for a sign-off, though, is kind of awesome: “REPLY/IGNORE/DESTROY.”