Portrait of Sean Rintel

Sean Rintel

Principal Researcher

Until Anon

On “Until anon”: Unique and deliberate email greeting and sign-off conventions

For years in email now I’ve deliberately used “G’day” as a greeting term and “Until anon” as a sign-off. I regularly get asked about what “Until anon” means, and why I use it. So here’s the answer.

Let’s get the definition out of the way: “Anon” is an archaic word referring to the near future, ranging from “immediately”, through “soon”, to “later”. So “until anon” effectively means “see you soon”.

So, why do I sign off email this way? “Until anon” came about because my undergraduate university started giving out free student accounts in 1994, and I was one of the first non-computer-science students to get one. At that time people wrote email much more like letters, with fairly consistent “Dear X” and “Cheers, Y” addresses and sign-offs. It rapidly became apparent to me that everyone was using very similar formats, which was fine but a little dull, and also did not really personalise the email.

As such, I made a conscious decision to find a unique sign-on and sign-off to personalise my email and also be a bit of an indicator my character and, perhaps, that it was really me writing the email. For a while I used “Hi Ho {/name}”  to address the email, ripped off from Kermit the Frog in his newscaster job because it was funny. However, an American friend at the time was a little shocked by the possible misreading of “Ho”. I thought that was a bit overwrought but there you go. So I changed to “G’day”, which would indicate being Australian.

I used various sign-offs, but often settled on “See ya, {/name}” to also indicate my being Australian. But “See ya” also felt a little too informal, so I went looking around for an alternative. I found it in 1995, in the film Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead. There is a scene in which the lead character, Jimmy, is warned about a situation by two thugs working for a crime boss. This is the dialogue:

Thug 1: Jimmy the Saint.

Jimmy: Hello, boys.

Thug 2: That’s a nice suit. Versace ?

Jimmy: No.

Thug 2:  Armani ?

Jimmy: No.

Thug 2:  Hugo Boss ?

Jimmy: What’s with this ?

Thug 1: Ellie’s S.O. said he needed a hobby.

Jimmy: Fashion is his hobby ?

Thug 1: He tried makin’ his own pasta. Didn’t move him.

Thug 2: A three-button ventless. I like that, Jimmy. Classy. ‘Course, uh, you gotta have the build for it.

Jimmy: What’s up ?

Thug 1: He wants to see you, Jim.

Jimmy: Aw, come on. What for ?

Thug 1: Hey, what can I tell ya ? He says, “Gus, I wanna see Jimmy the Saint.”

Jimmy: I said, “Boss, Jimmy the Saint ain’t mixin’ it up no more.”

Thug 1: He says, “Gus, I wanna see Jimmy the Saint.” Here we are. The point of me arguing seemed, uh, specious.

Thug 2: Gus is readin’ the dictionary.

Jimmy: Good. When does he want to see me ?

Thug 1: Now.

Jimmy: Now?

Thug 1: Anon.

I thought it was just so brilliant both thugs have been ‘improving’ themselves, and that this thug, who has been reading the dictionary, pulls out “anon” to add a subtlety of timing in response to Jimmy’s question of “now?”. I was consuming a lot of Shakespeare around those years (I was very fond of Henry V and The Scottish Play), which are full of “anon”, and I also dabbled ever so briefly in the Society for Creative Anachronism. So “anon” was in the ether for me. Precisely where the “until” came from I am not sure. I suppose I felt it would be a little curt to simply write “anon” so I looked for a suitably archaic modifier and must have come across “until anon” somewhere. So I decided that this was amusingly archaic and would probably be unique. And so it is.

For what it’s worth, I always type both address and sign-off.  I could automate it with a signature or even HTML email stationary to add more of an archaic flourish with it written in script, I suppose. I’m not keen on stationary because (a) I ‘grew’ up without it, so I’ve never gotten used to it, (b) it does not look consistent across email applications, so you can’t be sure of the impression you’re giving, and (c) I consider it an unnecessary waste of bandwidth (these days this final point is probably less relevant, but it was very relevant when we were being charged by the kilobyte!). Obviously  making these part of a plain text signature would be possible, but I don’t want them automated so that I can change them when necessary. It would be odd to use them in every context. However, I use them most of the time, and I do so deliberately.

As I said at the top of this explanation,  I used to get asked about “until anon” so regularly and wrote so many versions of this story that in the end I wrote this explanation as a faster way to reply. In the many years since I’ve posted it, this explanation has become the first result for “until anon” in several search engines (when searching for the exact phrase). As we have become more used to searching, people who wonder what it means tend to search before asking, come directly here, and that often results in them writing back to me and using similarly archaic language. I enjoy that addition of meta-textual amusement in the interaction. Of course, not everyone needs or wants a unique and deliberate email address and sign-off convention, but it does add just that little bit of interest and personalisation to the otherwise hum-drum email enterprise.