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(1) (I will number my points here, in case anyone wishes to reply.)

We do not have good conventions for salutations and valedictions in letters and emails. Both are useful to have

(2) The salutation shows where the message starts and to whom it is addressed. For letters, "Dear Mr. Smith," is completely conventional. For emails, "Dear Mr. Smith," is fine for formal emails, or first emails to strangers-- usually--- but it is too formal for ordinary use. An email is halfway between a letter and a phone call, and you would never say "Dear Mr. Smith," to open a phone call, even if Mr. Smith were old and distinguished.

Thus, I have come to use "Hello, Joseph,", or "Hi, Joe," if I want to be less formal. I still use "Dear Mr. Epstein," for first emails to strangers if they are old and high-status, or "Dear Joseph (if I may)," to go a step down, e.g. to an old and high-status person in my profession), or "Dear Joseph," to go another step down to a young or low-status stranger, e.g. a graduate student.

Then, in the second and succeeding emails in a thread I will not use a salutation, but I may insert the name in the first sentence so as to make the message more human. For example, I might write, "You indeed have found a mistake, Joe, and I am very grateful for that." Inserting Joe's name every time in five messages just between the two of us is too artificial though. >

(3) Note the comma in "Hi, Joe," as a salutation. I would value discussion of that. Should it be "Hi, Joe," or "Hi, Joe." or "Hi, Joe"? Which looks better? Which is more logical?

(4) Valedictions are vexing. A valediction shows where the message ends and by whom it was sent. I have often used "Yours Truly, Eric Rasmusen", as being both literally true and clearly convention-driven. But "Yours Truly" is a bit corny. "Yours faithfully" is false and pretentious. "Yours sincerely" is okay, but doesn't seem right for an email. "Best wishes," "All the best," and "Cheers" all have merit, but they are often inappropriate.

(5) Thus, my standard valediction now is "IHS, Eric". For most people, the only meaning of IHS is "Here is where the letters ends", which is fine, since that's the main purpose of a valediction. They don't need to know its meaning to understand that. Other people may know its meaning, which I will now explain.

(6) The meaning of IHS or I.H.S. is "In His Service" or "Jesus". Professor Kenneth Elzinga, whom I greatly admire, says he signs his letters writing out the phrase in full, "In His Service". That strikes me as admirable in its Christian witness, but too pompous. It makes a claim that the writer hopes is true, but it seems either overblown or self-aggrandizing--- that the writer is trying to act on behalf of God. The Christian is supposed to be doing that always, to be sure, but if the letter is merely telling someone that the seminar this week is in room CG2069, saying too explicitly that this is in service to God gets humorous. It *is* in His service, but it makes me smile anyway.

IHS has the same meaning as "In His Service", but stated more succinctly, formally, and quietly. It has the additional advantage of being not just code, but historic Christian code. In Greek the first three letters of Jesus are Iota, Eta, Sigma (see, which in Roman letters become I H S. Thus, IHS is a nice nod to God and also identifies the writer's intent to other Christians. At the same time, it offers a witness to non-Christians, in the following way. They see the letters and do not know what they mean. They may then ask the writer or someone else what they mean, and when they learn, a useful conversation may start. See Using the Greek letters might accomplish this even better; I haven't thought about that much.

IHS also is an allusion to "In hoc signo vinces," which means "In this sign you will conquer" (see Eusebius's History of Constantine tells how Constantine I, the first Christian emperor of Rome, was marching to battle when he looked up towards the sun and saw the Greek words "Touto niko", which mean "In hoc signo vinces" in Latin. Lactantius's On the Deaths of the Persecutors says that Constantine had his soldiers paint the Greek letters chi and rho on their shields as a reference to Christ. Constantine, Emperor of the West, won the battler over the Emperor of the East and became the sole Roman emperor.

IHS does not solve the valediction problem for nonbelievers, but for Christians it is helpful.

(7) A variant of IHS as a valediction, along the same lines as "Your humble servant", is "I hope IHS". That is a pun, meaning either "I hope in His service" or "I hope in Jesus". I like the pun, and I like the greater modesty, since whether I am doing something in God's service is sometimes dubious and since ordinarily what I am doing in the email is entirely mundane (though the Christian is supposed to do *all* things to God's glory, "Soli Deo Gloria", as Bach and Handel wrote on their manuscripts). But I want something very quick to type, so plan IHS is better for me.

(8) Another valediction I've sometimes used imitating mathematician Christopher Connell, is "Shalom, Eric Rasmusen". I like the Hebrew word "shalom" because it is Biblical and encompasses a variety of English words--- completeness, prosperity, and peace (think of the Arabic "salaam"). Downsides are that it's used as a greeting in modern Hebrew as well as a farewell, that many people think it means the same thing as "peace" in English, and that it sounds out of place when used by someone named "Rasmusen"."

(9) Still another valediction is YT, short for "Yours Truly". That has the advantage of being inobtrusive. I like the idea of admitting to people that I am proudly Christian with IHS, but it may too much like boasting. The best thing is to show one's allegiance to God naturally, without any hint of being forced. Thus, in some contexts, or just for variety, I use "YT".

Comments are welcomed! Email me at [email protected].

See also Wikipedia, "Christogram,"" > </A> and "Shalom," <A HREF= "" > </A>.