Deplorably, Dear Has Become Dear
The traditional salutation for correspondence is “Dear” in both personal and business letters where no affectionate relationship exists. Increasingly the use of “Dear,” except in formal letters, is replaced with “Hello” or “Hi” since the word “dear” carries meanings of beloved, precious or affectionate. Dear also means very expensive and even rare. Today, in letters, on the telephone and in greetings, “dear” is becoming dear—scarce. In email, twitter, texting or tweeting telegraphically truncated messaging, rarely if ever is it used.
I recently came upon a letter in a file that is over a hundred year old. It was first discovered in a tin safety box underneath the stairs of an old family home. The letter is dated 1876 and was written to my Irish immigrant great-grandfather in Illinois by his cousin Timothy in Ireland. His salutation touched me, “My dearly beloved cousin Thomas.” So, too, did his next words, “With sincere affection I write to you.” Such warm and loving words frequently appear throughout that old letter.
Now, over a hundred years later, we shun “dearly beloved” when writing or talking to a family member or a good friend afraid of being guilty of sentimentality. Sentiment is a natural human emotional expression, while sentimentality is an extravagant emotional manifestation that employs syrupy words in greeting cards and artificially crafted emotional scenes in books and movies. Our fear of being judged as sentimental includes our distress if we are “moved to tears” in public! Yet to weep, to shed tears at the death of one we love or to be moved by some drama, isn’t being sentimental, it is an expression of sentiment that is part of our precious inheritance of being human.
Anthropologists believe crying is a baby’s primal language to its parents signaling its needs. Weeping is also a prehistoric signal to others that creates social bonding since tears activated brain circuits unconsciously making us aware of another in distress. While they trigger compassion and empathy, they also are since the ancient days of Greece known as tools of manipulation. In former ages, at times of mourning where tears of great grief were expected, widows and family members were known to hide onions inside their handkerchiefs to create them.
I urge you to challenge contemporary taboos! Use phrases like, “Dearly beloved.” We are not, nor do we want to become, robots or robotic humans! Don’t be afraid to be truly and fully human—or “tearing up” at a movie or a wedding.