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Use Caution With Automatic Signatures

The other day my husband Michael, who is my business partner, showed me a personal-business email he had received from the mother of a child at our daughter's high school. The email was about a carpooling situation.

Just above the mother's name at the end of her email was this "close":


Can you imagine my surprise? This was a letter to my husband.

(Note: If XXXOOO is not used in your culture, in our culture it stands for "Kiss kiss kiss hug hug hug.") 

And it was not the first time the mother (I will call her that instead of making up a name) had used the affectionate close. Michael showed me an entire email thread, which she had started days earlier. Each message ended with XXXOOO.

Because all her messages end that way, it is obvious the mother uses XXXOOO in her automatic signature.

Whew! So I won't worry about any misplaced affection for my husband.

The mother's automatic signature reminded me of another message closing that a stranger used in her email to Michael about a business writing class. It was "With warmest regards."

Here is my advice: Be cautious with your automatic signatures. Yes, it is fine to end a message with XXXOOO when writing to your life partner or close family members. And it is perfectly appropriate to use "With warmest regards" in a message to a long-standing client, customer, or colleague who has become a very dear friend.

But don't use them when writing to my husband!

Am I overreacting? What is your view?

Syntax Training



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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

14 comments on “Use Caution With Automatic Signatures”

  • Hi, Cathy. Hearts over every I? I haven’t seen those in a long while. They remind me of middle school, but I have seen adults using them.

    I referred to the email in question as a “personal-business email” because it dealt with personal business. You are right–XXXOOO on a true business email could be disastrous.


  • It reminds of hand-written letters with hearts above every i. Blech.

    I don’t think you are overreacting, but then there are some who find it totally innocent. I’m curious why you categorize it as a business email if it was about carpooling. XXXOOO on a business email would be a major problem.

  • Hahahaha!
    Business or personal, it’s still hilarious, in a bad way.

    I wonder how the mother would respond if, for fun, your husband signed XXXOOO in reply!

    Perhaps that might give her a taste of the message she’s giving off.

  • The irony is that automated signs of affection like these end up coming across as false and manipulative as Teller’s smile. (Odd fact: He legally changed his name to just “Teller.”) A writer who can’t personalize a message ending shouldn’t pretend that level of warmth.



  • Thanks, Lester, for your good point about affection coming across as false and manipulative.

    If you see this message, will you please elaborate on Teller? I don’t know which one you are referring to.

    Joanne, I have been in your situation. It would be helpful if people realized they can edit their auto signatures on individual messages. Although it might take two seconds, your colleagues could erase a tag line for an internal message.

    Thanks for adding your views!

  • LOL! I was going to suggest what “Jen” said, but that could backfire. It reminds me of that “Friends” episode where Chandler pretended to be interested in Phoebe and vice versa, to see who caved in first. (Neither was attracted to the other.) This is why I turned off my auto signature on my personal email account. (It’s required at work–but no XXOOs are allowed. :-))

  • I agree we should all be careful with automatic signatures. I have a slightly take on the issue. In our office we are encouraged to add a “tag line” to our auto signatures that amounts to a mini sales pitch. (“Do you need help with XXX? Our new XXX service can help!”). Now everytime I get an email from a co-worker I get their tag line. There doesn’t seem to be any consideration for who the email is going to or what their needs are.

  • I can understand your irritation! But besides being inappropriate for any email outside of family and close friends, a sign of affection becomes devoid of meaning if it’s added automatically. It’s like the “Love you” at the end of every telephone call to a spouse or child. It becomes no more meaningful than “Later.”

    (Did I just kick a hornet’s nest?)

  • Hi, Val. You and I were posting at the same time. I agree, as does Lester (comment above), that auto-affection is meaningless. My husband often jokingly says “Love you. Mean it” to illustrate just the situation you describe.

    Hornet’s nest? We’ll see!


  • Hi, Lynn. The Teller I mentioned is the silent half of Penn & Teller, a pair of stage magicians, social commentators, and general debunkers. Penn does the huckster spiel during their act, while the cherubic Teller climbs into death traps while maintaining a fatuous smile.

  • Hi Lester, LOL amazing story, I use a JPEG file for my signature which I just copy and paste onto the document so there is no room for error. XOXOXO

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