It's time to lead the 'Hi' life as 'dear' becomes departed

Four letter words have a habit of getting some people hot under the collar.

Normally it's about inappropriate language before the watershed, but recently the guardians of the English language have become concerned by an altogether more modern phenomena – the use of "Dear..." or rather the lack of it.

Apparently thanks to email the formal address is in danger of being erased forever, replaced by the more colloquial "Hello", "Hiya" and in some worst case scenarios "Yo". To some the death of "Dear..." may not be worth losing sleep over, to others it's a worrying sign of a more general decline in our use of English.

The problem was first highlighted a couple of weeks ago when Giselle Barry, a spokesman for a US congressman, emailed a group of reporters. Few details of the important announcement made it into print, but the fact her opening gambit was, "Hey, folks" did.

A can of worms was opened and on the back of Barry's faux pas everyone from linguistic experts to CEO's have vented their spleen, not just about the demotion of "Dear..." but a host of other email crimes.

"I receive a lot of email," says careers specialist and author Dawn Rosenberg McKay. "A lot of it is well written. A lot of it isn't. Some messages go on and on and on, some messages get right to the point... a little too quickly. The writer wastes no time asking for what he or she needs without bothering to be polite.

"Some of my younger readers (I assume) use what I can only describe as some sort of shorthand, ie 'Can U plz send info on careers?' This may be appropriate for communicating with friends through instant messaging, but not for writing to someone you've never met.

"Sometimes there are glaring errors, such as misspellings and very poor grammar. While this annoys me some, I can only imagine what a prospective employer would think when receiving a poorly written message. Your correspondence says a lot about you."

It used to take time to craft a letter, find the stamps and get it to the post box, but with emails tapped out and sent in a matter of seconds it's little wonder that we have all become a little slapdash. However, before all rules of grammar slip away forever, there are some still hopeful of stopping the rot.

"I read each email I write several times before sending it, just to check that I am coming across as respectful," adds Rosenberg McKay. "Some people get annoyed by being addressed by their first name rather than their title and others won't read any further if it's all in lower case.

"Personally, I don't think you always have to begin with 'Dear...' If you're writing to someone you've communicated with before, you might want to begin by saying, 'I hope you are well'.

"Email writers often use emoticons – those little faces made up by arranging parentheses, colons, and semi-colons – to convey a certain tone. Use good judgment here. If you write to someone frequently and you have a less formal relationship, then emoticons are okay. If, however, you're writing to a prospective employer, stick to words.

"I love email. It's much less intrusive than a phone call and faster than a letter, but it's also unforgiving. Once you hit the send button you won't have another chance."

It's clearly a debate which won't go away, but with language having evolved over the centuries, isn't it time to accept that it's entirely natural that email will also leave its own mark?

"With the rise of the internet, email and texting the way we communicate has certainly changed," writes Sue Walder on her blog for the brazenly lower case media recruitment company pfj. "So it's not surprising that the etiquette for correspondence has also evolved. With emails there's more flexibility in terms of how you address people, yet there's still a need to be polite and formal when necessary. After all, you wouldn't address a potential employer the same way you'd greet a friend (innit, lol!).

"The team at pfj tend to use 'Hi' in emails to both candidates and clients and in internal emails sometimes won't even contain a greeting. However, the rules have to be different depending who your are contacting.

"I would still recommend using 'Dear...' and signing-off with 'Yours sincerely', 'Yours', or 'Many thanks' for formal emails, particularly those which are a first connect, but once you have exchanged a few messages, 'Hi...' I think is perfectly acceptable."