November 04, 2021


Per My Last Email… By Stephanie K. Wright. Andrews McMeel. $14.99.

     Did you ever have one of those business ideas that looked really good on paper, or in a virtual meeting, but that fell a touch short in implementation? Or more than a touch short? That is Per My Last Email… and the irritating ellipsis at the end of the title is just one small part of it. Stephanie K. Wright’s idea seems good on the face of it: to offer readers (as her subtitle says) “witty, wicked, and wonderfully weird workplace words and phrases” – although even here things are a touch “off,” given the extended but not-quite-complete alliteration.

     So, in furtherance (look it up!) of that objective, Wright recommends using words such as sullen, dissonance, snowed under, humming, malarkey, bilge, diligent, industrious, brilliant, stand down, relinquish, scrutinize and analyze. Apparently these are words with which Wright was unfamiliar before creating this book. If they seem a trifle, well, salient (that is, obvious), that is indeed a major issue with Per My Last Email… Many of the words here, although scarcely all, are simply far too well-known to appear in a book dedicated to “witty, wicked, and wonderfully weird” verbiage.

     The title bears a moment’s cogitation, too. Some elements of the book really do relate to email: one of its best sections is called “Fun with Autoreply.” But the type of quick, in-a-few-words response that is the basis of most of Wright’s book is now far more likely to be needed in Slack or Teams than in email.

     Be that as it may (deliberate use of a cliché there!), some words in Wright’s little tome (128 pages) really are little-known, little-used, and potentially a lot of fun – the book is supposed to be amusing, after all, and with respect to these words, it is. Among them are katzenjammer, chapfallen, dwall, clinomania, zooterkins, dumfungled, sard, scobberlotcher, quisby, gnashgab, and many others. These genuinely weird words are often slang from centuries ago or simply discards that were once popular but that disappeared as the English language evolved: some entries go back as far as the 10th century. These words do add humor to the book and do have the potential to amuse and, perhaps more significantly, bamboozle officemates (or Zoom-mates or Slack or Team members) who deserve it.

     Deciding who deserves Wright’s treatment is beyond the scope of her book, which is probably just as well. Some of the more-amusing material here lies not in individual words but in suggestions for specific workplace communications. The difficulty lies in deciding just how seriously Wright expects these ideas to be taken. There are three pages of opening lines for emails, for example, including “Happy shiny Monday,” “Welcome to your next project,” and “Greetings from the affably bemused.” And there are two pages of closing email lines, including “Toodles,” “Excited to tackle this project with you,” and “May the odds be ever in your favor.” In both instances, openings and closings, the mixture of apparently serious and clearly non-serious material is somewhat off-putting. Also here are specific suggestions for events including calling in sick, attending retirement parties, and being tasked (ugh) with doing the impossible. Throughout the book, Wright does a good job of formulating workplace circumstances that could be enlivened (if not necessarily improved) through the use of a bit of unfamiliar, unexpected language. The issue with the book, though, is that she never seems entirely clear on just how obscure or little-known a particular word may be. She seems to think readers have never heard copacetic, but that word has been overused to the point of cliché. On the other hand, she does a fine job digging up the word wabbit, which is not only what Elmer Fudd calls Bugs Bunny but also a word meaning “exhausted and slightly ill” – in Scotland. Per My Last Email… is too uneven to be a template for improved (or more-amusing) office communication, but it certainly does make worthwhile points from time to time. The bottom line (double ugh) is that Wright considers herself a deipnosophist (someone skillful at informal chitchat – a word that is in the book), but readers may wonder just what makes her so sanguine (optimistic or positive – a word not presented in Per My Last Email…).

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