Monthly Archives: April 2014

I have three Chinese names. Which one should I use?

People with English names sometimes take Chinese names. In fact, some expats in China consider a local name to be as important as a mobile phone number. It’s a must-have.

I don’t live in China, but I’ve been learning Chinese for a few years. Many of my fellow students have Chinese names. I decided that it’s high time I got one. Or three.

Three? It’s an insurance policy: China is full of westerners with abandoned Chinese names that have been tried out a few times on the locals—and failed. In the real world of the China street, they look or sound…weird.

So, I needed a Plan B. And C.

My first Port of Call was Boston’s Chinatown, where I go once a week to wrestle with the Chinese language.

Boston-based Chinese teacher Wenjing Li (Photo: Patrick Cox)

Boston-based Chinese teacher Wenjing Li (Photo: Patrick Cox)

Wenjing Li, my teacher, grew up in Shanghai. And this is what she came up with when I asked her to give me a Chinese name: 博刻思 (Bo ke si).

There’s a nice lilt to that (listen to the audio above). It has a passing resemblance to my English name, which Wenjing says is all you need. Mandarin and English have such different phonetic systems that it’s pointless to try to force one language to sound like the other. You’d end up with one of those weird names.

Bo, the first syllable, means plentiful. But it might also imply a certain, shall we say, seniority, which Wenjing tells me is appropriate, “because you are older than me.” I ask her if it’s a name for an old person. Not necessarily, she says. Just someone who’s been around the block, and seen a few things.

The second and third syllables—ke and si—mean constantly, and thinking or considerate.

Wenjing has thrown in some wordplay too. The first two syllables bo and ke, pronounced differently, mean podcast. Very clever. She’s also included a potential banana skin in the final syllable, si. Pronounce it the wrong way with the wrong tone, and it sounds like the word for to die.

I tell her that it’s fitting that Chinese teacher gives me name that demands that I get my tones right.

For my second name I go to meet Tony Huang at the Great Mandarin Restaurant in the Boston suburb of Woburn.

Tony Huang, co-owner of Great Mandarin Restaurant, Woburn, MA (Photo: Patrick Cox)

Tony Huang, co-owner of Great Mandarin Restaurant, Woburn, MA (Photo: Patrick Cox)

Tony is the co-owner, and he’s the father of a friend of mine. He was born and raised in Taiwan, and here’s his name for me: 白翠克(Bai cui ke).

Bai cui ke has some similarities to Bo ke si. Both play off the sound of my English name; they’re both three syllables, also like my English name; and they both include a ke, albeit different ones. But Tony’s name is assembled according to totally different principles: numbers and elements.

Numbers have traditionally played a key role in Chinese names. Older generations of parents would visit a fortune teller with date and time of birth of their child. The fortune teller would then assign a name based on a series of calculations involving, among other things, the number of strokes it takes to write the name in Chinese characters.

For my name, Tony didn’t need to go to a fortune teller. “I went to the fortune teller website,” he says.

I have trouble following all the calculations that Tony is doing. He leafs through page after page of notes. He has spent hours checking charts in books and on websites so he can be confident that my name is sufficiently auspicious.

The character stroke count of Bai cui ke is 26, which, Tony tells me, has both good and bad points. (It depends on a bunch other stuff, which you can read about here.)

When Tony points out a couple of aspects of the math that are “bad,” I ask him if he’s giving me a bad name. He says of course not, though I have trouble following his reasoning. There are apparently issues with the number of strokes of the first and second syllables combined (19) as well as the second and third (21).

But Tony knows what he’s doing. He’s configured things so that the name’s negative aspects indicate bad times for me in my 30s. I’m older than that—as Tony says, who cares what my name says about the past? From my mid-40s on, it’s all wealth and happiness.

There’s one more problem. Because the last two characters add up to 21, I apparently may not have a good relationship with my boss. We may just have to live with that.

I now have two names that I love. I may not need another Chinese name but I’m getting greedy. I want one.

I visit a friend, artist and calligrapher Wen-hao Tien. Wen-hao grew up in Taiwan and she lives now in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Artist and calligrapher Wen-hao Tien (Photo: Patrick Cox)

Artist and calligrapher Wen-hao Tien (Photo: Patrick Cox)

“I like to find names that are a little vague and are humorous,” she says.

No stroke calculations here. Just intuition—and the look and sound of the name.

“You strike me as a very energetic person,” Wen-hao tells me. “Sporty. Somehow the sound of Cui and Patrick is a good fit.”

Cui is pronounced “tsway.”

Wen-hao continues: “Actually, there’s a famous rock singer, his name’s Cui Jian.”

How can I resist?

Wen-hao decides that like Cui Jian, the rock star, my name will have just two characters: 崔可 (Cui ke). “Ke means doable, OK, achievable,” she adds.

She paints the characters on a sheet of paper. She asks me what I think. I tell her I like it but I don’t have trained eye for these things.

“Oh, I think it looks pretty cool,” says Wen-hao.

Listening back to these interviews, I hear myself laughing—much more than usual. It’s giddy getting a new name. And judging by the laughter from Wenjing, Tony and Wen-hao, it must be giddy giving one too.

I realize now how much thought goes into giving someone a Chinese name, so much more than the other way round—calling someone Lucy or Lily or Tony. Tony tells me a Chinese waiter will change his English name if that name is already taken at his workplace.

As for my Chinese names, I’m not going to pick one, at least for now—I like them all. So American of me: spoiled for choice.


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‘Hello, my name is Yes,’ and other English names in China

Shi Zhi's English name is Yes, as his T-shirt proclaims  (Photo: Ruth Morris)

Shi Zhi’s English name is Yes, as his T-shirt proclaims (Photo: Ruth Morris)


Here’s a guest post from Shanghai-based reporter Ruth Morris.

Any foreigner in China has their own list of odd English names they’ve come across.

There’s Dell, who fixes computers. Tomorrow was a job applicant. A quick tally by friends also includes Cabbage, Box, DreamJazz, Nothing, Eat and Fancy Go-Go.

Names say a lot about us when we get to choose them for ourselves.

Yes is an actor. He said he chose that name on the spur of the moment at a party.

“I went to my American friend’s party and he asked me, ‘Oh, what’s your name?'” Yes recounted. “I said, ‘Shi Zhi.’ And he says ‘Shieie Jieu?’ And I say, ‘Yeah, something like that.'”

The Chinese word shi means be, or is. It’s also used as an affirmation, like saying, “Yes.” As a family name, it’s pretty uncommon in China.

So at the party, Shi told his American friend: “The Shi is like Yes!” He’s been Yes ever since. He kept it, he said, because it’s funny and positive.

Young Chinese people often adopt English-language names to help out their foreign friends who struggle with the tones in Mandarin. It’s like offering safe passage across a linguistic minefield.

But that’s not to say that all Chinese people embrace the idea of using English names. Gao Jian, a professor at the English department of Shanghai International Studies University, said he went by James with foreign friends until about 10 years ago. Today he refuses to use it, preferring his Chinese name.

“Sometimes we have a chat about some students,” he said. “My colleague will say, ‘Rose told me… ‘ or, ‘Jack told me… ‘ I say, ‘Who’s Rose? Who’s Jack?’ I don’t know their English names. I hate that frankly.”

Gao said Chinese students started using English names in the 1990s, when China was opening its doors to the world. They saw English as their ticket to a good job, perhaps with a multinational company, and they were proud of their English proficiency.

But Gao said attitudes are changing. More and more of his students are adopting names that sound like their given names in Chinese, or else have a similar meaning– like Shi becoming Yes. Gao attributed the switch to a deepening sense of national identity that takes pride in China’s linguistic heritage.

Liu Shu Wen aka Cinderella (courtesy Liu Shu Wen)

Liu Shu Wen aka Cinderella (courtesy Liu Shu Wen)

Others take their names from classic novels, hip-hop artists, movies or even fairytales.

Liu Shu Wen, also known as Cinderella, is a marketing executive at a car company. The rags-to-riches motif seems especially fitting in a country that’s just come through a 30-year economic growing spurt. But for this Cinderella, it’s more about character.

“I think Cinderella has a very strong heart, even in a very high pressure (situation) from her evil mother and her sisters,” she said. “I think I can be like her, have a strong heart inside.”

There are some pretty normal names going around too, although they sometimes have unexpected origins. Yong Wei is a microbiologist. His English name is Tom.

“I picked it back when I was in middle school and that’s one of the few English characters I knew from a cartoon-Tom and Jerry,” he said.

Tom, of course, is the cat in the MGM animated series. That seemed like a unique choice. Then, separately, I met Jerry.

“For one thing, I have small eyes. [That] makes me like Jerry in the cartoon,” Jerry said. “And for another thing, Jerry is always the naughty one, but always, you know, who wins the battle, every time.”

Jerry studied English and American literature at college. He had a classmate who went down a completely different road and named himself Nixon. President Richard Nixon might conjure memories of Watergate at home. But in China, he’s remembered for helping to normalize relations between China and the United States.

“My teachers back in college, they always wanted us to be the bridges between China and the western countries,” Jerry said. “So he’s a guy with a lot of ambition and passion for cross-cultural communication.”

Jerry said he’s noticed a new trend. He’s coming across more westerners who are making a big effort to learn Chinese. For example, a Dutch colleague recently made a point of learning, and remembering, Jerry’s Chinese name.

“When he really asked me about my Chinese name I was kind of surprised. My second thought was, ‘It’s a very cool thing, and it’s equal,'” Jerry said.

Initially, Jerry adopted an English name because he wanted to look outwards, and help build a bridge to the West. But now, he says, more and more westerners are coming to China, and meeting him halfway.


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The language of pregnancy seems pregnant with meaning. Is it?

Pregnant clockwise in Chinese, Georgian, Portuguese, Thai, Afrikaans,  Albanian, Hebrew, Spanish, Russian. (Credit: Fran Dias)

Pregnant clockwise in Chinese, Georgian, Portuguese, Thai, Afrikaans, Albanian, Hebrew, Spanish, Russian. (Credit: Fran Dias)

When a woman in Russia is carrying a child in her womb, several words could be used to describe her condition.

The most common is beremenaya (Беременная). Figuratively, it means pregnant. But the literal meaning is quite different.

“It has this kind of almost quasi-religious meaning of burden, or punishment,” says Svetlana Boym, professor of Slavic and comparative literature at Harvard.

“You are carrying your burden.”

In other Slavic languages, some words for pregnant have the same root meaning of burden. Makes you wonder — how exactly do people in the Slavic world view pregnancy?

Different Meanings in Different Languages

And what are we to make of the words that describe pregnancy in the African nation of Malawi? Malawian journalist Yvonnie Sundu lists three words for pregnant in the Chichewa language — and all of them mean ill. There’s matenda, wodwala and, most dramatically, pakati, which means “between life and death.”

Linguistically, pregnancy seems to be seen in a more positive light in China. Among the many words in Chinese for pregnant is youxi (有喜), which Boston-based Chinese teacher Wenjing Li says is made up of two common characters. You (有)means “to have” and xi (喜) means “happy” or “happiness.” Put them together and they mean pregnant.

Russian, Chichewa and Chinese aren’t outliers. Translate pregnant into many other languages and you’ll get words that break down into all kinds of meanings.

The Spanish word for pregnant — embarazada — is often confused with the English word embarrassed. They may have different meanings today, but these two words come from the same root.

The word for pregnant in the Amazonian tribal language of Pirahã is koohiaaga, which means “stomach.” That may sound like a vague term for pregnant, but when the Pirahã say, “her stomach is big,” it means only one thing.

All these words and all these meanings seem rich with cultural information. When you think about it, it makes sense that the Chinese, with their Confucian values, would view pregnancy as a happy circumstance. Likewise, it’s not surprising that Russians, with all the suffering in their society, would view pregnancy as a burden. And in a poor country like Malawi, where women may not get adequate prenatal care, you can see how pregnancy might be viewed as sickness.

Cultural Attitudes

It stands to reason that we should mine these words for clues about the behavior and views of the people who use them. Right?

Wrong, says Columbia University linguist John McWhorter.

“It’s really tempting to think that the different words that we often use have something to do with the culture that a language corresponds to,” says McWhorter. “But, actually, there’s a lot less to ideas like that than we’d like to think.”

Why? Consider again the word in question: pregnant.

Look up pregnant in an English dictionary and you’ll see that it comes from a Latin word that means something like “before birth.”

Over time, the word has picked up other meanings. It can refer, for example, to something that’s filled with significance or emotion — for instance, a pregnant pause.

It’s not clear where these other meanings came from. One theory is that a French word that sounded a bit like pregnant became confused with the English word, and so, over time, pregnant expanded its meaning. It’s a pretty common way for a word to evolve — not in a planned fashion, just randomly.

When we say pregnant, or any other word, says McWhorter, we can’t possibly think of all of its nuances, let alone its original root meaning.

“To speak is to use words and expressions in idiomatic ways that float away from their literal meanings,” he says. “Reading meaning into the words and expressions that we mouth is often a very dangerous proposition.”

It’s dangerous, he says, because we might draw completely false conclusions about a group of people. Are the Chinese, for example, really happier about pregnancy than others? Not in recent decades; China’s one-child policy must have resulted in millions of unhappy pregnancies.

How Language Relates to Thought

So, what is the connection between how you speak and how you think?

“Language and thought don’t correspond the way we might think they do when we look at it laid out all neatly on the page,” says McWhorter.

Over the years, linguists have gone back and forth on how much the language you speak affects how you think. Today, most linguists don’t believe that language affects thought all that much. But recently, a few studies on how we perceive the likes of cardinal directions and color have concluded that speech does sometimes shape thought.

McWhorter, though, is skeptical — so skeptical that he’s written a book called “The Language Hoax: Why the World Looks the Same in Any Language.”

So what, if anything, runs through the minds of Chinese, Chichewa and Russian speakers when they use their words for pregnant?

Wenjing Li — again referring to the two Chinese characters, you meaning have and xi meaning happiness — says, “When we say youxi together, we always think … pregnant. We don’t think about what you means and what xi means separately.”

A Glimpse of History

So does that mean that we should always ignore the root or literal meanings of words? Words had to evolve out of some sort of meaning.

What about those Chichewa words for pregnant, all meaning sick? Chichewa speaker Yvonne Sundu guesses that the word pakati, meaning, literally, “between life and death,” once made a lot of sense.

“Most of the women who were pregnant ended up perhaps dying,” says Sundu. “So that’s the reason why our forefathers coined this word, pakati.”

Of course, given the random way that words often evolve, they’re not exactly the most reliable pieces of historical evidence. But, sometimes, they may offer a clue about cultural attitudes in the past.

Harvard’s Svetlana Boym thinks so. There’s the Russian word for pregnancy, beremenaya, with its literal meaning of “burden.”

She says that Russians, until quite recently, did think of pregnancy as a burden.

“Women in old Soviet times were not given painkillers,” says Boym. “There was an idea that you were supposed to suffer your burden as a woman, which I think is quite a horrifying idea.”

But medical practices evolve. So do cultural attitudes. In Russia today, the government is upgrading maternity hospitals and paying couples a cash bonus if they have more than one child. So, is pregnancy still a “burden?”

The word and its root meaning appear to be growing ever farther apart.


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How to amass a collection of world leaders’ autographs, from Mandela to Castro

Some of the top names from the autograph collection of Randy Kaplan. He launched his collection in 1996, with the autograph of Bill Clinton, and has gathered 130 autographed baseballs to date.  (Photo: Alina Simone)

Some of the top names from the autograph collection of Randy Kaplan. He launched his collection in 1996, with the autograph of Bill Clinton, and has gathered 130 autographed baseballs to date. (Photo: Alina Simone)

Here’s a guest post from writer Alina Simone.

I’m always on the look out for attention-grabbing stats, so when I heard the most valuable autograph of a living person in the world belonged to Fidel Castro, I thought — there’s a cool business story.

But as soon as I started talking to this elite group of collectors — the autograph hunters who vie for the attention of the world’s most famous, elusive and often, notorious leaders — I realized this piece wasn’t going to be about numbers: it was about people. In the words of autograph hunter Randy Kaplan, “You have to be cut from a special mold to be a collector that’s successful in getting in-person autographs like this.”

Kaplan has been collecting the signatures of world leaders on baseballs since 1996. He was the one who introduced me to the idea of autographing-as-blood-sport.

Kaplan schmoozed Hamid Karzai’s security detail for his autograph and smooth-talked his way into then-president of Nigeria General Olusegun Obasanjo’s hotel room. He even mastered phonetic Russian well enough to convince Gorbachev’s bodyguards the baseball in his hand wasn’t a bomb.

A few of Randy Kaplan's signed baseballs and photos (Photo: Alina Simone)

A few of Randy Kaplan’s signed baseballs and photos (Photo: Alina Simone)

“You either have it, or you don’t,” Kaplan told me. “You have to plan everything three steps ahead. You have to do all your research. You have find out who their defense secretary is, anyone who’s going to be with them. Most importantly, as a collector, you have to be prepared for the unprepared; I never go anywhere without at least a dozen baseballs on me, at all times. “

By now I’m feeling like autograph hunting requires as much specialized gear as regular hunting, like a 12 pocket flak-jacket to hold the baseballs. But according to Kaplan, your memory has to be even stronger than your back.

Randy Kaplan with his collection of autographed baseballs“My son and I were in the city during UN week, and I noticed some state department cars outside of a Turkish restaurant on 2nd Avenue on the Upper East Side,” he recalls. “So naturally we went over there together, and sure enough, who’s walking out but the president of Kosovo — could not believe it! — Atifete Jahjaga.”

I can understand walking into a falafel joint and spotting Obama, or even Russian President Vladimir Putin — but the president of Kosovo?

Not every president walking out of a Turkish restaurant gives Kaplan his autograph, though. That rejection, he admitted in an email, can trigger a mini-depression. But as much as he wants to get those autographs, he’s not indiscriminate about whose autograph he seeks.

“There are people I would not want to have as a part of my collection,” Kaplan says. “Anybody who’s a mass-murderer, somebody who’s indicted on crimes-against-humanity — I try to avoid those people. The lust is still there to try and get them, but there’s also a barrier up saying ‘No, I don’t want them in my collection.’ I want it to be people that I’m proud of.”

Fidel Castro’s signature would make Kaplan proud, he says. Getting El Comandante’s autograph on a ball is a kind of holy grail for Kaplan. He’s been trying to get it for years, without success.

If only Kaplan had grown up in a Communist country, he’d have a lot more luck. Hungarian collector Zoltan Marian had a foreign ministry official get a signed photograph from Castro back in 1972, when Castro visited Budapest for the first and only time.

With the help of foreign ministry officials, Zoltan Marian managed to get a signed photo of Fidel Castro during the Cuban leader’s only visit to Hungary, in 1972. Castro is the world’s most sought-after autograph, among living people, with each copy valued at approximately $5,800 by Paul Fraser Collectibles. (Photo courtesy of Zoltan Marian)

With the help of foreign ministry officials, Zoltan Marian managed to get a signed photo of Fidel Castro during the Cuban leader’s only visit to Hungary, in 1972. Castro is the world’s most sought-after autograph, among living people, with each copy valued at approximately $5,800 by Paul Fraser Collectibles. (Photo courtesy of Zoltan Marian)

“Yes, I am proud of Fidel Castro because I know he is very, very difficult,” Marian says. “Since 1972, I tried to write him once again, but I only received a copy of a fax.”

Because Zoltan is agnostic when it comes to a leader’s politics, his collection of more than 1300 signed photos includes some truly chilling names: Pinochet, Mobutu Sese Seko, “Papa Doc” Duvalier, Saddam Hussein. But the standouts are autographs so rare dealers have trouble even putting a price on them: the dynastic leaders of North Korea.

With help from his own Communist government, Zoltan managed to get Kim Il Sung’s signed photo. But for years he had no such luck with Kim’s son. Finally Zoltan sent Kim Jong Il a copy of the very same photo Kim the elder had signed years before, hoping that might convince him to send Zoltan his autograph. Instead two guys from the North Korean embassy showed up at his door. Somehow, over the course of a very tense tea, Zoltan managed to win them over.

“I had to wait for a long time,” Zoltan says. “About for a year or more, but finally I received a signed photo of the Dear Leader.”

Zoltan’s collection includes autographs of many such Cold War all-stars — signatures that Western collectors have a lot of trouble getting (unless they buy them on eBay).

But autograph hunting from a Communist Country wasn’t always easier. “Sometimes I was invited to the police station and they told me: Do not write those letters to these, these and that person,” Zoltan explains.

Back in the ’70s, the Hungarian police even warned Zoltan to stop writing to Alexander Dubček, the former Communist leader of neighboring Czechoslovakia. Dubček was responsible for the Prague Spring, but was under house arrest.

Zoltan kept writing anyway. He didn’t care. What he did was address his letter to Dubček’s wife, under her maiden name. Eventually, he got his man.

Former Czech leader Alexander Dubček was under house arrest when Zoltan started seeking his autograph in the early 1970s.  The Kremlin blamed Dubček for instigating the Prague Spring. All letters addressed to him went to a Czechoslovak Police official, who told the Hungarian police about Zoltan. Zoltan was warned to “stop writing those letters to Dubček,” but he remained undeterred. A Hungarian TV reporter advised him to address the envelope not to Dubček, but rather to his wife, Anna, under her maiden name. Dubček signed two photos for Zoltan, using his wife’s maiden name as the sender. (Photo courtesy of Zoltan Marian)

Former Czech leader Alexander Dubček was under house arrest when Zoltan started seeking his autograph in the early 1970s. The Kremlin blamed Dubček for instigating the Prague Spring. All letters addressed to him went to a Czechoslovak Police official, who told the Hungarian police about Zoltan. Zoltan was warned to “stop writing those letters to Dubček,” but he remained undeterred. A Hungarian TV reporter advised him to address the envelope not to Dubček, but rather to his wife, Anna, under her maiden name. Dubček signed two photos for Zoltan, using his wife’s maiden name as the sender. (Photo courtesy of Zoltan Marian)


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How to apologize for the Cultural Revolution without blaming the Communist Party

It’s been 25 years since Chinese forces opened fire on students encamped in Tiananmen Square. But that’s recent history.

Too recent for anyone to start apologizing for their conduct. Not so the Cultural Revolution.

The Cultural Revolution is far enough in the past (1966-76) for people to now start taking blame for some of its bloodiest moments. Of course, many of them are reaching the end of their lives, and may feel the need to atone for their actions.

Former Red Guard leader, Chen Xiaolu returned to his old school in Beijing last year to apologize for his actions in back in 1966. ( Photo provided by Chen Xiaolu)

Former Red Guard leader, Chen Xiaolu returned to his old school in Beijing last year to apologize for his actions in back in 1966. ( Photo provided by Chen Xiaolu)


Former Red Guard leader, Chen Xiaolu returned to his old school in Beijing last year to apologize for his actions in back in 1966.The words of these confessors are carefully, sometimes artfully chosen. With few exceptions, they go out of their way not to blame the Communist officials for inciting them — though government rhetoric at the time set peasants against landowners, the uneducated against intellectuals.

In the podcast, I ask The World’s Matthew Bell about this. He recently reported two stories out of China, also included in the podcast, which deals with different aspects of how the Cultural Revolution is remembered.

In one, Matthew visits a Cultural Revolution-themed restaurant, and speaks with a well-connected business executive the who has publicly apogized for his role in beatings of staff at a middle school.

It was a significant apology: Chen had been a local leader of the Red Guards, the stormtroopers of the Cultural Revolution, and he is the son of a Chinese army general who was close to Mao Zedong.

Bian Zhongyun's children mourn the death of their mother, as seen in the documentary "Though I am Gone." Bian was a school principal who beaten to death 1968 by a crowd.

Bian Zhongyun’s children mourn the death of their mother, as seen in the documentary “Though I am Gone.” Bian was a school principal who beaten to death 1968 by a crowd.

In Matthew’s other story, a Chinese filmmaker tells the story of a Beijing high school principal killed by mob of schoolgirls armed with homemade spiked clubs. The schoolgirls had been radicalized by Red Guards.


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In search of the perfect email sign-off

Here’s a guest post from New York-based and friend of the Big Show, Alina Simone.

Remember being a sad weirdo in high school and feeling so insecure, you just kind of cop other people’s style and hope no one will notice?

Sculpting your hair into a black Aquanet spire to fit in with the Goths? Shredding the skin off your knees doing an Olly to impress the skaters?

Okay that’s just me. But I thought I’d at least kissed that grim, grasping feeling goodbye.

Actually, it confronts me every day, almost every hour, in the form of the email sign-off. Am I the only one? The only one who feels like nothing fits?

That all those “Warmlys” and “Regards” and “All bests” are the worst?

And all those international options — “Ciao” and “Suerte” and “Bises” and, God forbid, “Tatty bye”? — don’t help. They hurt. A lot.

There are days I would willingly shave off my eyebrows just to be excused from ever thinking about email sign-offs again. Mostly I just wait for that merciful plateau to arrive in an e-relationship, when you can finally drop the sign-off.

Until then, here is the détente that I’ve reached: “Poka poka,” for my Russian friends. (It means “Bye-bye” and feels okay.)

“Warmly,” with people I don’t know. (Meh.) “Hugs” for everyone at The World. (No one’s complained.) And for my family: nothing. Because it’s they’re stuck with me — even if I start using “Tatty bye.”

Then I decided to rally: to embark on a Goldilocks-type quest for the ideal sign-off, one unique to me. Just like the Colonial War re-enactor I recently interviewed who signs off, “Yours in Liberty.” Perfect, right?

So I took to Facebook, where some truly horrifying options instantly emerged. Like “Toodles.” And “Ta for now.” Then came the inscrutable hipster acronyms that make old people sad. TTYL? GG? Sorry, no.

My favorite of the bunch was “Stay classy.” But I feared “Stay classy” was like some gold lame dress I’d buy on impulse only to have my friends look at it and go, “Um, how about you stay classy?”

I invite my friend Stephen over to be my sign-off spirit guide. His sign-offs are the best. Again, they probably wouldn’t work for me, but suit him to a tee. Like the Spanglish, “Hasta then” (so much better than “Later”). Or the casually guillotined, “As evs.”

According to Stephen, the ideal sign-off requires both humor and speed. Keep it light and don’t overthink it. But even Stephen makes mistakes.

“Well I don’t sign off, ‘All best’ anymore,” Stephen confessed. “I once sent one that I thought said ‘All best’ to somebody at Ralph Lauren, and my finger moved and I wrote, ‘Ass best,’ and they blocked my emails.”

My Facebook friends also shared mortifying sign-offs they’d received from non-English speakers, like “Thanks Sir Mister!” and the sinister-sounding “I look forward to your cooperation.”

Even if it’s the safest option, though, Stephen still won’t be switching to “sincerely” anytime soon. Unless he secretly hates you.

“When you think about it, sincerely is the nicest because you’re telling someone you’re sincere,” Stephen told me. “You’re giving them all of your true feeling. But it sounds cold.”

This whole time, I’m nodding along, smiling, but when he digs into “Cheers,” my heart takes a plunge.

“I don’t like ‘Cheers,’ if it’s coming from an American. I think it has no place here. What are we going to do, say ‘lorry’ next? ‘Lift’? You know, really!”

Guilty, guilty, guilty. Not only do I long to say lorry and lift, but I yearn to use gobsmacked and knackered and especially cheers, which sounds so sophisticated when my British editor at The World, Patrick Cox, tosses it off, but apparently makes me sound like… a tosser.

This may sound like a tangent, but a while back I fell in love with the Danish TV series, “Borgen.” ‘Borgen’ makes me want to move to an ill-lit apartment in Copenhagen and spend my days mooning around cafés with brooding young men.

In Danish, ‘Borgen’ means castle but serves as a nickname for the parliament. To me, it felt like a sign-off. So I started using it with my “Borgen”-watching friends and then they started using it too.

True, people who don’t watch “Borgen” won’t get it, but do they even matter? When nothing makes sense, why not embrace the nonsensical?

What’s the most memorable email sign-off you’ve encountered? Let us know in the comments.


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