Word Nerd: Should Your Valedictions be Sincere or Faithful?

7 Nov

In this Word Nerd, we are talking valedictions, which sounds fancy; cucumber-sandwiches-and-Earl-Grey-with-the-Queen-and-Archbishop-fancy. But it’s just Latin for farewell. As Robertson Davies once said, “When John Ryder, for instance, writes I utter valediction to the author of my being, he means simply that he said goodbye to his mother.” And farewells are as important in the virtual world as they are in the real one.

But we aren’t talking Latinate farewells, like that poem by John Donne. Or talking about valedictorian speeches – for which there will be a season. This is about email sign offs which, humble as they might seem, confuse many. Is it “faithfully or sincerely”? How “warm” can regards get? Or, is all of this too old-fashioned and maybe a unicorn GIF would work better?

Unicorn GIF. Not a great choice for formal emails.

Unicorn GIF. Not a great choice for formal emails.


Context is obviously king. A cover letter, an email to a Professor at a prospective university, or a visa application, is not the same as leaving a comment with your favourite blogger, or a Facebook message. As a young individual, habituated to txtspk, you might find this business confusing.

If you’re writing to someone formally, someone you don’t know by name, concealed by the veil of authority – you can start with a “Dear Sir/Ma’am,” and end with “Yours faithfully.” (We like to speculate that this is because both parties will act on faith, unaware of each other’s individual character). On the other hand, if you know your addressee by name, even if not personally (perhaps the Principal, or your Project-in-Charge), you can start with a “Dear Dr. Jamieson”, or “Dear Ms. Sandberg”, and sign off “Yours Sincerely.” This is a good rule of usage. To remember it, here’s a mnemonic – “Sir is never sincere.”

And with regards, the more personal your equation, the warmer you can get. According to Susan Adams, a Forbes writer, “Yours Truly” and its variations are a little too penpal-y for formal communications. But, we think there’s nothing terribly wrong with them.

Of course, you might find most of these rules subjective. But they’re safe. As would you be, using them.

Now that we’ve covered what works, let’s get an overview of what doesn’t. Again, in a formal context.

  • XOXO – Maybe not everyone will get that you didn’t ask them to a game of tic-tac-toe. It’s worse if they know what this means. Kisses and hugs to a Professor of Physical Sciences, we ask you!1708f23
  • High Five from Low Down (and similar enthusiasms)– Not sure it will impress any embassy official. Or anyone except your childhood mate.  (The meme above applies to this one as well).
  • Quotes – For example, “I like to tell people I have the heart of a small boy. Then I say it’s in a jar on my desk” – Stephen King. We’re not denying that it’s funny, but it might give people the wrong idea about your interests in taxidermy or homicide. Spare the quotes.quotes
  • Big logos and GIFS – Formal emails are often meant to convey only vital information. So, KISS.designation
  • And lastly, avoid obscure abbreviation.That’s it from us.

    Is there any way you would never choose to sign off? Or is there an embarrassing sign off you’ve used earlier that you’d like to share? Email us or leave a comment below!


Check out previous Word Nerd posts here!


By Skendha Singh

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