On “Until anon”: Unique and deliberate email address and signoff conventions

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

“Until anon” came about because UQ 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 X”  to address the email, ripped off from Kermit the Frog in his newscaster job because it was funny. I used various sign-offs, but often settled on “See ya, Y” to indicate my being Australian. 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, but then I also had “see ya” at the end. “See ya” also felt a little too informal, so I went looking around for an alternative. I found it, actually, 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 also heard “anon” and possibly “until anon” in some Shakespearean play, possibly Henry V, around the same time.
So I decided that this was amusingly archaic and would probably be unique. And so it is. I get asked about it regularly. I also find that people see it and respond using similarly archaic language, even though I might have been extremely informal otherwise in my email to them. To be honest, that is amusing as well, because it adds a layer of meta-textual interest to the email interaction. I could use personalised HTML email stationary, I suppose, but (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!).
For what it’s worth, I always type both address and sign-off. Neither are automated, so 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. 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.