Dear Sir or Madam

There was a time, not so very long ago, when I could assume that felicitation would have covered all of you. Not now, of course. That leads to a minefield I should probably steer well clear of.

The observation is prompted by recent correspondence concerning formality in letter writing. It started with R Russell Smith of Largs referring to himself as “Yours Truly”. That was followed by David Miller of Milngavie noting that “correspondence in times past in the form of typed letters, often ended with ‘Yours sincerely’. Should the correspondence become acrimonious, the ending quickly changed to ‘Yours faithfully’.”

David L Smith of Newton Mearns then recalled a letter his father received in the early 1960s which began with “I am directed by Their Lords Commissioners of The Admiralty to advise you” and closed with “I remain your humble and obedient servant”.

I admire the charm of that last phrase. I have never had a humble and obedient servant, though of course my wife has (in the form of Yours Truly; no relation to R Russell Smith).

Looking through the last few letters to have arrived in our email inbox, we have a Madam/Sir, two Sir/Madams, a Sir, a Dear Sir, three Dear Editors, a Hello, 23 which just crack on without valediction, and an outlier, “Please consider for publication”.

Does, I wonder, the formality mentioned above, now old-fashioned, display a mindset which can inform the tone of the letter? I have yet to receive one which begins “Dear Sir – You are a waste of oxygen. You should go outside and apologise to the trees”, but have had several displaying such sentiments (not just about me, I hasten to add) which just bash straight on with the invective.

Regular readers will know that no matter the form of address that is employed, or the sign-off, we aim to keep the tone of our debates relatively civil.

The Herald is a quality broadsheet and we don’t like, for example, to go around calling people morons, no matter how idiotic they might appear.

Above all, we have robust disagreements amongst ourselves, but we don’t allow gratuitous insults of our correspondents. If you write a letter to The Herald, you will be treated with respect (though you should not expect reverence). Terms like Bojo and Wee Krankie have their place, but that place is on social media and the tabloids, not here. And we use honorifics such as Mr Sunak, Ms Sturgeon, Sir Keir.

Incidentally, while we’re talking of overt politeness, I once, many years ago, was in possession of a letter which ended with “P.S. Please excuse pencil.” It was written on toilet paper.

Yours truthfully.