“So long, farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, goodbye!”

While the words in this title are good ways to end conversations, a ‘valediction’ is the official way to describe the end part of a letter, just above the signature. In fact, the word ‘valediction’ comes from the Latin ‘vale dicere’ meaning ‘to say farewell’. It is also referred to as a ‘complimentary close’. As with all politeness formulas, there are specific rules about what to use when, and this is particularly true in translation, where the traditions are different in the recipient’s country to those in the writer’s.

A lovely example of a classic, and now archaic English valediction is “I am, Sir, your most humble and obedient servant.” The language here is extremely respectful and poetic. However, it was also common to shorten it to “I am, etc.,” or even “YOS” (short for Your Obedient Servant).Today it is more common to see “Best regards” being shortened to “BR”. Now, to me it seems that abbreviating a valediction defeats its purpose. If the respect stated doesn’t even extend to writing out the phrase itself, then its value is called into question.

In the context of translation, politeness formulas can prove tricky. For example, in French, a letter is often ended using something similar to the following:

Veuillez agréer, Madame, Monsieur, l’expression de mes sentiments distingués.

However, a letter in English ended with, “Please receive, Madam, Sir, the expression of my distinguished sentiments.” would certainly raise an eyebrow, if not be seen as silliness. Rather than translate this phrase, the translator must remove it completely and replace it with a simpler phrase that fits the situation and that is acceptable to an English-speaking audience.

The end of a letter is the chance to leave the reader with a good lasting impression. Since politeness formulas vary all over the world, taking extra care to get it right is a way to demonstrate the respect that these words attempt to convey.

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