You Say Hello, I Say Shut the F*** Up

Janet has a post up on communications between students and faculty. My opinion -- as both a student who must communicate with faculty members and a teaching assistant with whom students must communicate -- is that it's most important to be clear, concise, respectful, and polite. You should always observe proper punctuation, grammar, and spelling or you're liable to misunderstood. It doesn't do much good if your instructor can't answer your question because they can't understand what the hell you're saying. I have a few other comments below the fold.

One big concern for students is how to address the person with whom you're attempting to communicate. Do you call them Dr. SoAndSo, Professor SoAndSo, Professor, or Bill? My policy depends on whom I'm emailing. If it's someone I don't know well or am emailing for the first time, I'll go with Dr. SoAndSo. After that person replies, I'll consider switching to a first name if they sign their email with their first name. This transition may take a while depending on the person's prestige (yeah, academia is definitely stratified). Folks that I know (like my advisor, committee, and other faculty that I interact with often) get the first name treatment.


My biggest pet peeves? People who start their emails with either a "Hi" or "Hello" or sign them with "Cheers". Call me by my name; unlike some people, I don't mind if you wear it out. And if you're writing to a bunch of people, give us some kind of name like "Dudes", "Homies", or "My Brothers From Another Mother". I'll let the cheers thing go if the person is British or Canadian (I expect that kind of stuff from non-Americans). Call it jingoism or xenophobia, but I think Americans sound stupid when they say "cheers" unless they've got a pint raised high. And it makes me think of the pair of poorly drawn cartoon characters on the left -- I hear it as "Cheers, fuckface!"


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You should always observe proper punctuation, grammar, and spelling or you're liable to misunderstood.

Always the way when commenting on grammar, isn't it? :)

By Hello World (not verified) on 22 Apr 2006 #permalink

I always start with "Dr", or, if they are well enough known, "Professor". If they are just a humble postgrad, they are both complimented and happy to correct you. No harm, no foul. I used to love getting mail addressed to "Professor Wilkins" when I was a doctoral student.

Only my friends call me "fuckface" (and occasionally my daughter), but they know who they're talking to...



Being a non-American I do not understand the American dislike of Cheers. It is so cute. I keep forgetting NOT to do it all the time.


Touche, Hello World. It's obligatory to make a grammatical error whenever commenting on grammar.

As a non-American, you're allowed to say cheers all you like, coturnix. It just sounds so poseurish coming from Americans.

How do you tell an American from a non-American when they are writing to you?

Despite being British, I rarely sign an email with cheers. If I am writing to some one I know well, I probably put "love" or "luv" if they are British or "all the best" if not. Americans don't seem to take to a "love" sign off very well.

All the best, love

Well, I sign "Cheers" to friends, but that's just the UK idiom. I'd probably go with "Best wishes" or "Many thanks" depending on who I'm emailing and what I'm asking for :-)

By Peter Ellis (not verified) on 22 Apr 2006 #permalink

I know most of the people I get emails from, so I know who comes from where. There are some Americans who sign every email with Cheers, which gets tiresome. I'll sign my emails with "Thanks" if I'm requesting something, but I usually don't even include an expression at the end (I just write my name).

Being a non-American I do not understand the American dislike of Cheers. It is so cute. I keep forgetting NOT to do it all the time.

I second that. It's not a fart in the general direction of Americans, it's more of a wish they will enjoy a beer in the near future :) But 'thanks' is good as well.

Starting an email is a problem as well. Often I can't bring myself to try the American/English conventions even if that would be polite, because they sound so silly to me personally :)

Dr. XX, ....
But I assume the reader knows what his name is. It's right there in the email headers. And since I never call anyone 'Doctor' in real life it doesn't feel natural in an email, either.

Dear Dr. XX, ...
I don't know you well enough to call you 'dear', sorry.

Dear Sir/Madam, ...
What is this, the 19th century?

And how to end? 'Yours Truly' or 'Love' are pretty strong words for someone I've never even met ;-)

I don't mean to say that these conventions really are silly, only that at least a lot of non-native speakers probably end up with "Hello" and "Cheers" because the other options seem unnatural.