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  Writing for Business and Pleasure
  Copyright 2012 by
Stephen Wilbers

First published June 19, 2012

 Choose your closings with an eye – and an ear – to relationship

by Stephen Wilbers

Wei Li writes: "There’s a question confuses me for quite a long time. When I write to my group people, by the end of the letter, I need to close the letter by regards, best regards, kind regards, warm regards, best wishes, your sincere, your truely.  I’ll appreciated if you can tell me the differences between all these phases."

Wei Li, whose spoken English is excellent, is a Chinese tour guide. She goes by "Julie" for the sake of the non-Chinese-speaking people in her groups, people like me. My wife and I had the pleasure of being in Wei Li’s warm, capable care for two weeks while we toured China.

As I discovered when studying French during my junior year in Aix-en-Provence, one of the many advantages of translingual communication is that it offers insights into your own language as well as into the language of the people you are encountering. Wei Li’s question made me think about the subtle differences in the various ways we close our correspondence.

Here’s what I told her about our closings, from formal to personal:

Sincerely: standard close on paper; also fine for email in business correspondence (but too formal for your messages to your tour group members)

Yours sincerely: slightly more personal but still formal

Yours truly: somewhat more informal, but as a matter of conventional use, more formal than the words suggest

Best regards, kind regards, warm regards, best wishes: friendly, but still somewhat formal

Regards: standard close for email, appropriate for friends (and fine for messages to your tour group members)

Yours: informal, friendly

Take care: appropriate for close friends and family (and fine for tour group members, but after, not during, your tours, when you are emphasizing continuing relationship rather than conveying necessary information)

Ciao, cheers: friendly, playful, hip

Love: appropriate for very close friends and family members

Shan Hu, one of our four local guides, writes: "here’s my question. is there any word or phrase in English (like what’s wrong & what’s wrong with you) which easily by misunderstanding leads to offensive meaning?"

Shan Hu, whose names mean "kind-hearted" and "tiger," naturally goes by "Tony." Like any sophisticated communicator, Shan Hu understands that words often take on non-literal, idiomatic meanings that might be crude or offensive. Asking a tour group member, "What’s wrong with you?" meaning "Why are you so obnoxious?" is very different from asking, "What’s wrong?" meaning "Are you having a problem that I can help you resolve?"

Falling into that category are questions such as "What’s your problem?" and "What’s the matter with you?" and statements such as "You’re a trying person" when the intended meaning is "You try hard."

So to my friends, Wei Li and Shan Hu: Take care. Please give my regards (not my kind regards) to Charlie, Nick, and Jack, who also who did a wonderful job of taking care of us. We tried not to be too trying.