DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have received an e-mail recently that had the following statement at the bottom, which I will copy verbatim:
"This e-mail may display a telegraphic style that gives the false impression of curtness or insensitivity. Also, it may contain confidential or privileged information. If it is received in error, kindly delete it and notify sender. Thank you."
It appears that the sender's company requires this statement to be attached to the end of every e-mail.
I have several questions about the first sentence. Should I take it as a pre-emptive apology? Or an instruction not to be offended about what would otherwise be offensive? Do you believe it is appropriate to include such a sentence in e-mails? Do you recommend that other companies adopt this approach?
And what is "a telegraphic style," anyway? I'm only 34, so I've never sent or received a telegram.
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners commiserates with you for having missed the excitement of receiving a telegram (although under some circumstances, they also brought tragedy). As telegrams were expensive and each word added to the charge, they were written and sent sparingly, investing them with momentous importance.
"ELOPED PLEASE FORGIVE STOP MADLY HAPPY."
"RETURN IMMEDIATELY STOP MOTHER HYSTERICAL STOP FINANCIAL CONSEQUENCES STOP LOVE FATHER"
Some translation may be in order here. Telegrams lacked punctuation and lowercase letters, so "stop" indicated the end of a sentence fragment, and the messages, however animated, should not be interpreted as shouts.
But is e-mail generally any clearer, for all its unlimited wordage and symbols?
Terseness doesn't look so bad, now that we are sinking under the frequency and verbosity of e-mail. Miss Manners favors recycling that aspect of telegraphic style, although not the stops and caps. Prophylactic apologies do seem superfluous, but should be interpreted as lack of practice at getting to the point, rather than as a prelude to insult.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: We had a small dinner party planned (just another couple and their children), and the food was cooking and hors d'oeuvres out when they called to say they couldn't make it.
The food was not going to keep well as leftovers. We contemplated (but didn't) calling nearby friends and asking them over at the last minute. Obviously, we would have had to say that they were pinch-hitting for another couple.
Would this have been a thrifty means of saving the evening and sharing our repast, or a rude attempt to swap guests?
GENTLE READER: It depends on whom you invite.
Dear friends whom you often entertain would be charmed if you confessed your plight and begged them to help you eat your way out of it. Social life being as unreliable as it is, they should be grateful not only for an unexpected evening out, but for having friends whom they can call upon in an emergency.
People whom you owe would not be grateful. To them it becomes obvious that you only reach for them in an emergency.
But shouldn't you be bringing this food to the hospital, where your guests are recovering from their last-minute accident, or to their funerals?