Saturday, May 10, 2008

Word of the Week: please

Word of the Week isn’t just about the meanings of words, or the misuse of them. Word of the Weeks is about human communication using words.

This week I was reading a great book called SEND, The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home, by David Shipley and Will Schwalbe. There’s lot of great stuff in the book and I plan on doing a separate blog posting about it, but there was one particular passage about the word please that I loved and knew immediately was something appropriate for Word of the Week.

The passage (pages 127-128) is so eloquent there’s nothing I can say that would be nearly as clever or accurate – so I simply offer it here for your enjoyment:

Please, Thank You, and Other Insulting Terms

Common sense might tell you that adding “please” or “thank you” to an email will always make it more polite. Common sense would be wrong.

“Would you please remember to include me on the email whenever you respond to a customer?” conveys a sense of exasperation. You’ve been told this before, it says. Why can’t you remember this? Is it so hard?

“Please” is a slippery word. Even though we are taught, from a very young age, to use it whenever we want something, it’s almost impossible to use in writing without coming across as obnoxious. The best option is simply to omit it. “Remember to include me…” works just fine. (Strangely, the abbreviation “pls.” doesn’t seem to convey this frosty tone, although obviously it can be used only in informal communication.)

“Thank you” is much less tricky if you remember a simple rule. It’s appropriate after a favor, snotty when used before. “Thank you for making sure I got the report” works nicely. “Than you for making sure I get the report” has an edge to it because it’s a command crudely cloaked in premature gratitude.


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