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Sunday, April 09, 2006

Best Ass in the Midwest, Three Years Running


Dear Reader:

After years of silently hating it, I am coming out against “Best.” Not the adjective in general, not the very notion of a superlative. More specifically, I am coming out against “best” used as a closing formalism in an email or, God forbid, an actual letter. As in:

Dear Dr. Bejerkejerk:

Blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah.

Best,
Richard Ditherdick

As far as I can tell, “best” originated in academia eight years ago or so and has more or less remained confined there until recently, used in emails to and from people who either have PhDs or are in the process of trying to get one. Lately, though, I have noticed it spreading, being used by normal people, people who are neither professors nor grad students. I’ve even seen it used in an actual letter rather than just in an email.

But why, you may ask, do I hate “best”? What’s so wrong with this innocuous-seeming closer? First, let me say that I do not hate people who use “best.” I scorn the sin, not the sinner. But I hate “best” because it says absolutely nothing yet seems weirdly smug. It attempts to be jaunty and convivial but is really just completely noncommittal. It says “I want to seem friendly, but I don’t want to risk actually saying something friendly. Best…!

It’s an intensifier, an adjective, meaningless in itself. It’s the result of some academic somewhere thinking he or she is too damn hip or poststructuralist to say something as fusty as “Best Regards.” But you know what? If you’re going to shorten a perfectly good closing formalism like “Best regards,” you’ve got to keep the meat, not the ketchup. It is a bit cool to send regards without specifying what kind of regards you’re sending, sure, but I’ll take nonspecific “regards” any day over an adjective that modifies nothing.

So from here on in, when someone “bests” me, I am going to take it upon myself to add the missing bit of meaning. I will amuse myself by assuming that whoever is offering me a nonspecific “best” is using it as shorthand for “Best friends forever.” Or maybe “Best in show,” depending on the context.

A few other things someone who closes with “best” might be misconstrued as saying:

Best not to ask,
Best of luck with that scrofulous rash,
Best way to avoid crabs? Stay away from me,
Best if we never speak or correspond again,
Best Western, Room 114, 5:00 PM Friday,

So now you’ve been warned. Use “best” with caution, or maybe just use it followed closely by a noun. Or, better yet, find a specific closer that really communicates something, like seven-year-old Kiyomi's excellent and quite meaningful sign-off to George W. Bush. The world will be a tiny bit better for your efforts.


Best regards,
E.

14 Comments:

Blogger Elizabeth said...

Well, your post has shamed and humbled me. I'm one of those insidious "best" users - and I totally admit I started using it because other academics (i.e. my advisers in grad school) used it and I wanted to imitate their best-er than-thou stance. Thanks for saving me from myself. And incidentally, I'm assuming your title is referring to Feral Mom's spectacular ass? Not that yours isn't lovely, too.

Best,
Bess

7:35 AM  
Blogger Feral Mom said...

Shout out! Thanks, Elizabeth. Now that the critters are weaned, the ASS is back!

I thought "best" was short for "best wishes" actually. And yes, I use it--it's the perfect friendly, yet not too friendly closer. As is my ass.

Wishes, Feral Mom

8:47 AM  
Blogger E. said...

Yes, you guessed it! The statue goes to ... Feral Mom, for Best Ass! She also takes home an Assie for Ass Most Widely Exposed in a Humorous Context on the Web. (You'll have to go to Gone Feral's archives from last July if you're not sure what I'm referring to.)

Yeah, everyone uses it. I hold nothing against any individual bester. It just annoys me, and maybe it's a personal quirk. Full disclosure: I used it myself maybe twice back in grad school. It's what all your advisors and mentors do, so why not? But I felt smug doing it. I just had to stop, and that's when I realized just how strongly I disliked it.

I've actually never gotten a "best" from either Elizabeth or Feral Mom, but that's because you don't best your friends, it's only in more formal emails. Don't ever use it in an actual letter though! I will hold that against you. But if I ever do get a "best" from FM, to me it'll mean "Best ass, Feral Mom." And from Elizabeth it'll mean "Best knitter and all-around multitasker, Elizabeth."

Love ya!

Your destroyer,
E.

9:46 AM  
Blogger Dawn said...

I admit it. Balefulregards came from my use of "Warm Regards" at the end of my official correspondance. Mostly I wanted to say "Balefully yours", but I didn't.

It's like the use of the word "paradigm" or "schema".

And there are a few people I would like to use the "Best piece of ass you've ever had" line on.

5:32 PM  
Blogger Esereth said...

You know, I've never ever ever thought of anything remotely close to that subject. And this is how I know your blog is good, as I read, what seemed inconsequential suddenly started pissing me off, and I was saying to myself, "Yeah! Goddam poststructurlists!! (Don't know what that word means).

So, yeah. Cool post.

6:46 PM  
Anonymous sweatpantsmom said...

I, too, am shamed and humbled and will never use 'Best' again.

Kiyomi says thanks for the shout out, and sends her bes-- I mean regards.

(thanks for the link.)

12:10 AM  
Blogger E. said...

I didn't mean to shame anyone with my little rant (especially not folks as cool as Elizabeth and Sweatpantsmom), though I am glad I've got Esereth pissed off (even if it is about something inconsequential in the larger scheme of war, famine, and global warming).

I like "warm regards." That's like a rebel yell of feeling within a formalized closing. (Balefully yours is great too. Any interesting adverb with "yours" kinda rocks me.)

9:35 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

The shame feels rather good - in a naughty way. I used "Best" in an email to a supervisor today, even though I don't wish him the best. At all. Can it be deployed ironically?

11:54 AM  
Blogger naive-no-more said...

You must try to publish this somewhere. It's the best!

Notice I used that correctly!

2:16 PM  
Blogger E. said...

Ooh...well, naughty shame is OK. I think in your case Elizabeth, "best" means "Best if we never correspond," or something like "Best not to say what I really think of you," or maybe even "Best keep your distance from me if you want to keep your nuts intact." It all depends on how little you really wish him the "best." And why.

4:52 PM  
Blogger E. said...

By the way, "all the best" is fine by me, and I don't mind when someone "sends me their best." It's a tone thing, not a grammar thing. Best just seems curt. (Curt was really the word I was looking for, more than smug.)

But sometimes you want to be curt, as Elizabeth's comment reminds us. So maybe there's a place for "best." Anyway, it won't bug me as much anymore because I'll be busy adding silly endings to every "best" I get and chuckling sophomorically.

That's all I have to say about this, I promise.

Ever anal,
E.

10:02 AM  
Blogger Jeff said...

I'll take "Best," over "In Christ," any day.

I can hear Feral Mom right now: "Heh heh. He said 'in Christ'".

1:46 PM  
Blogger Orange said...

Well said.

Fine regards,

So-so regards,

Disdainfully yours,

Not yours,

Yours in your dreams,

Best ass in the Midwest, Northern Illinois division,

Orange

6:26 PM  
Blogger Leesa said...

What a wonderfully humerous post!

9:49 AM  

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