Grammar 101: Signing Off

Australia’s most stylish Agony Uncle, Adrian Fernand, tells us the tale of when a lack of good grammar got his hackles up and reminds us that ‘best’ is best not left alone…

Several years ago, after bidding farewell to an industry in which commencing an e-mail salutation with darling, pet or love and concluding with kisses, cuddles, puppies and kittens was deemed acceptable office behaviour—perhaps with the exception of the CEO—I found myself embarking upon a brief stint in the world of bureaucratic red tape, political correctness and ugly shoes. Working in a government institution (educational not psychiatric; although the two aren’t too dissimilar) has its merits—a never-ending supply of biscuits and stationery; and generous maternity leave if you’re a member of the fairer sex—but with it comes the ego and idiosyncrasies of the learned. Whilst I’m an active proponent in the rise of intelligentsia, those who are members of academia posses their own brand of elitism and esotericism. And oh how they love to use best to sign their e-mails.

I’m reminded of one particularly unpleasant Doctor of Philosophy whose hatred of all men might have come from her staunch feminist view or could have been attributed to her short haircut. Unwilling to be bullied by the bovine, I made my counter attack by being as saccharine as possible, and always addressing her as darl’, pet or love, much to her chagrin. Yet it wasn’t her hostile demeanour that I found most offensive, it was her use of best on all of her written correspondence.

Her use of the singular word suggested “I’m too busy and important being scholarly to honour you with simple courtesy, so take my best without wish nor regard and begone yea of inferior intellect.” Best? Best what? You see, best without a definite article—the—simply doesn’t make any grammatical sense. All the best works, Give her my best does too, however, in isolation best could refer to anything. For example:

  • Best Man – She certainly made a good impression of one, but I’m certain she wasn’t asking to be mine.
  • Best in Show – An excellent Christopher Guest film and an accolade bestowed upon dogs. However, I saw her as more of a cat person.
  • Best Western –  A moderately priced hotel chain, perhaps?

Alas, I left the university system and it seemed to have disappeared back into obscurity where it belonged, until recently where I saw it rear its hideous punim once again, with others far and wide utilising this fad abbreviation and bastardisation of centuries-old politesse. It’s simple, there are only three variations: Best wishes, Best regards, and All the best. The additional seven characters won’t give you RSI and you’ll seem a lot more polite. Besides, aren’t e-mail signatures supposed to be automated?

I know I must appear like a pedantic English teacher and after missing my last two hair appointments, I’m beginning to look like one, however, something needs to be said. after all, it’s my job to make you all look good. So leave an appletini on my desk, and move along now, children before someone starts me on a rant about epic fail. I’m looking at you, Miss Perry!

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About Adrian Fernand

Adrian Fernand is a writer specialising in screen, television and fiction. As the Agony Uncle for etiquette and social protocol site, I Do Believe I Came with a Hat, he responds to the quandaries facing polite society in a modern world. He has in excess of 90 pairs of shoes. Follow Adrian on Twitter @AdrianFernand
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