The letter in the Gazette fulminating about the archaic practice of beginning letters ‘Dear Sir’ is absolutely right (21 May). As we approach the end of the second decade of the 21st century it is catering to a patriarchal society: it is a practice that is outmoded and should be stamped out.
The trouble is, with what does one replace it? Or, as is more common nowadays, ‘What does one replace it with?’
‘Dear Madams’ is a bit difficult, redolent as it is of 20th-century brothels.
‘Dear Mesdames’ would be fine if anyone under 30 has been taught French. But it is rather like greetings from waitpersons and other staff.
‘Hi Guys’ seem to be the mots du jour. But that falls into the male trap and surely it can only be heard as a transitional phrase. You can’t start letters to Linklaters like that, can you?
If one is looking at word association what goes with ‘guys’? The answer is, of course, ‘dolls’ so what about ‘Hi Dolls?’ Perhaps that’s all right for post-9pm at a TGI Fridays, but hardly correct for an all-female table at the Law Society’s dining room.
I remember appearing in Bow Street in front of Frank Milton years ago when I used some slang phrase and corrected myself saying, ‘Perhaps that is not a suitable word for the court.’
‘Perfectly all right for the magistrates’ court, Mr Morton,’ said Milton, ‘but not correct for the Crown court.’
Others would say ‘gals’ is the female counterpart. ‘What can I serve you gals today?’ But that really is too redolent of a saloon in a Joan Crawford western. Possibly it could be tried out in a TGIF before it comes into legal usage.
Maybe the answer is to dispense with salutations altogether. After all, the recipient is not ‘Dear’ to the writer. Are we really being ‘sincere’ or ‘faithful’? Get down to the brass tacks. Begin the letter: ‘Unless your (wo)man pays up by Thursday, there’ll be trouble’.
James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor