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What Your Salute Says About You

Dear recent graduates: How you start an email reveals a lot more about your intentions than you know. Common e-greetings for etiquette voodoo.

Moon Museum, 2009, by Cornelia Schmidt-Bleek
Courtesy Galerie Kamm, Berlin

“Hey,” means you want something from me.

“Hey:” means you expect something from me.

“Bro,” makes clear that the last time we saw one another was in the neon glow of a Jägermestier tap machine, and you were selling grams of baby laxative, so I will not be coming to your birthday party at Poughkeepsie’s newest hotspot, the Infamous Scandalous Lounge.

“Greetings:” denotes that I signed up for your dreadful boutique’s mailing list in hopes of impressing somebody in the store, and now I resent all of the parties involved, myself most of all.

“To Whom It May Concern:” indicates that you are looking for information or professional placement. I am an unlikely source for either, so this is probably spam. On the off chance that it’s not, the former will be revealed begrudgingly, and the latter will include a lengthy interview with one of those trick questions like, “If you were a fruit, what fruit would you be?” “Great white shark” is the only correct answer.

“Hello” signifies that you spent too much time thinking about everything that follows, or that you are high.

“Hi,” suggests you think you’re important.

“Hi!” means I’m going to delete your email without reading it.

“Dear,” expresses that—despite your outdated AOL address and the hundreds of forwarded conspiratorial rants in your Sent folder—this is only the third email you’ve ever sent and the details are better suited for our upcoming family get-together.

A sincere sentence that ends “, Graham” makes you an ex, writing to inform me that you’re: getting married; getting divorced; in recovery; with child.

“Dear:” means we should cut to the chase: Freelancing is not the same as unemployment, Mom.

“Hi all.” implies that you’re in over your head.

“Yo.” See “Bro” above but substitute oregano for baby laxative and Gütter’z for the Infamous Scandalous Lounge. Also, tell Big Sheila that she can go to hell.

Jumping right in is disgraceful, unless you’re in the middle of a long exchange or fueled by love or vitriol. Regardless, the phone would be better.

“Sir” puts my mental image of you in a traditional Nigerian buba and square sunglasses, thumbing a bundle of ill-gotten cash.

A sincere sentence that ends “, Graham” makes you an ex, writing to inform me that you’re: getting married; getting divorced; in recovery; with child; or carrying a malady and think I should get tested too.

“What up?” means you’re an old friend asking for a favor. No.

“Graham:” guarantees you’ve made at least one bad choice in life. Sorry.

TMN Contributing Writer Graham T. Beck has written for the New York Times, the Believer, the Daily Beast, and the Awl. He is a regular contributor to frieze and hard at work on a very funny book about the end of the world. More by Graham T. Beck