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A Bestiary of E-Mail Etiquette Offenders .:. kentbrewster.com

In Which I'm Gently Plagiarized by the Internet, Again

Here's an entry from a Frequently Asked Questions list that I wrote for the folks at Systems Plus, somewhere around 1997, in the golden days before they merged, purged, and began the long march towards eating WebMD from the inside. I re-post it here because 1) it's still relevant and 2) I just had it forwarded to me by my local Dial-A-Joke guy, who had no idea I'd written it. This is the second time this has happened; the first was in 2003.

Q: I get the horrible feeling I'm breaking some sort of e-mail etiquette rule ... are they written down anywhere?

A: No, not as such. But here, for your entertainment and education, is our Bestiary of E-Mail Etiquette Offenders. (Note: we would never ever accuse someone of breaking a rule of etiquette in a situation where they're impossible to learn. But if you find yourself thinking that one of these items might refer to you ... it probably does.)

  • Mr. Spam: Bombards the local user group with commercials for Girl Scout cookies, charities, group activities, and other solicitations. May also explain lunch plans and similar administrivia to the entire office, not really understanding that only a small number of people need (or want) to know.
  • The Panicker: Received an ominous message from some casual acquaintance--usually with an AOL address--that she absolutely had to forward to "everyone she knows," since it's about this Good Times virus that will eat everybody's hard drive if they look at the e-mail. Did not think to ask her MIS department or check Yahoo! under "Good Times Virus" beforehand. The Panicker may also forward non-computer-related Internet viruses, such as the kidney theft hoax, Nieman-Marcus cookie recipe, or the cancer-stricken boy in England who wants your get-well cards. Hoaxes, all of them!
  • THE SHOUTER: INSISTS UPON E-MAILING YOU IN ALL CAPS, NOT UNDERSTANDING THAT THIS SORT OF THING IS VERY DIFFICULT FOR THE RECIPIENT TO READ WITHOUT GETTING THE FEELING THAT HE IS BEING YELLED AT. MAY ALSO USE ALOT OF BAD GRAMMER AND SPELING PLUS LOTS OF EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!! Easy to dismiss as a twit, but be careful: this guy will very often turn out to be your boss or someone else who can make your life miserable.
  • Our Mystery Guest: Doesn't sign her name, nor has she thought to enter it into her e-mail program so it'll appear in the headers. Expects you to figure out that anonymous e-mail coming from shirleyshirlyboburleyamanamanamomurleyfeefiefofurleyshirley6693@aol.com is actually work-related, entirely on your own.
  • Mr. Cryptic: Answers you with a one-word "yes" or "no," with no quoted text or other context attached. May also delete the subject line from any replies he makes to you and substitute "reply to your e-mail," or just leave the subject line blank. Does not understand that there are those of us who receive hundreds of e-mails a day, depend on the subject line to clue us in to what they're about, and have to file them and be able to find them six months from now.
  • Big Sig: Signs all of her messages with the same six- to ten-line signature, featuring her name, job title, address, phone, blood type, fax number, Geek Code, Meyers-Briggs personality type, PGP key, twenty-year-old Bill the Cat or Bart Simpson graphic, political affiliation, and a disclaimer saying that any opinions in this e-mail are hers and not that of her employer.
  • The Quoter: Includes your entire message, including headers and signature lines, in his response to you. Will then quote the quotes, et cetera, when you reply. E-mail servers melt into puddles when Big Sig starts arguing with The Quoter.
  • The Sniper: Quotes your entire message but inserts her reply one line at a time, carefully documenting any spelling, grammatical, or other error you may have made on the fly. By picking apart the way you send your message, she's avoiding responsibility for the message itself. Sneaky, huh?
  • Mr. Delayed Response: Once a week, this guy's secretary prints out his e-mail and leaves it on his chair. He still expects you to keep him up-to-date nevertheless. Bonus: he's almost always a Mr. Cryptic in his responses, to boot.
  • Dial-A-Joke: Automatically forwards to you any joke or other humorous item that passes through her e-mail, along with (of course) seventeen layers of quotes and headers and blocks of previous recipients. Didn't ask before putting you on the list and may feel Very Deeply Hurt if you ask her to take you off, so be careful.
  • CC The Boss: Sends a carbon copy of all messages he sends to you to his boss and your boss. Will also contrive to send them CCs of your responses by quoting them in his replies. Watch yourself.
  • BCC The Boss: CC's evil cousin. You'll never know what hit you. BCC means Blind Carbon Copy. A copy of the message that's being sent to you is also going to somebody else without your knowledge, usually as corroborative evidence that BCC is doing her job and you're not doing yours.
  • The HTML Artiste: There's a reason this guy works for the art department: he's creative, dammit, and really wants you to know it. Sends all his e-mails in HTML format. Aww, isn't that cute? It's in bright pink 16-point MS Comic on a lavender background. If you just had that Smell-O-Vision card in your PC, you'd be whiffing violets right now. Unfortunately, those of us without HTML mail readers see a bunch of annoying hash, and--worse--can't automatically quote those messages for our reply.
  • The Attacher: Usually a budding HTML Artiste who has just now figured out how to attach a really cute graphic to all her e-mails. Again, those of us without HTML mail readers see a bunch of annoying hash, plus a big block of UUEncoded crud.
  • The Word File Attacher: Does all his work in Microsoft Word, by God, and if the rest of us don't have it, tough. Doesn't realize how easy it is to highlight, copy, and paste the body of his one-page document straight into an e-mail message. Also doesn't realize that he's the major vector for all those nifty little Word viruses.
  • The Honking Big File Attacher: Just figured out that she can click the button to send you a nine-megabyte PowerPoint file and not be responsible for it any more! Woo-hoo! Ain't technology grand? Well ... no. Not if you've got an ISP that won't accept an attached file greater than a megabyte in size. The HBFA gets drunk with Mr. Dial-A-Joke every year around Christmas; together they spam "everybody they know" with those twinkly little two-meg Grandma-Got-Run-Over-By-A-Reindeer .avi files, which cause e-mail servers to vaporize right when we're trying to close out the year. What fun!

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