Oh dear: Majority of SLN readers vote in favour of ditching ‘Dear Sirs’

Oh dear: Majority of SLN readers vote in favour of ditching ‘Dear Sirs’

Many Scots lawyers would like to see the salutation ‘Dear Sirs’ dropped from usage in favour of others that recognise that not all lawyers are men, a survey by Scottish Legal News has found.

We received 720 responses to our poll, with, 66.5 per cent, or 479 respondents, agreeing that other salutations should be adopted. A sizeable minority of 241 people, 33.5 per cent of voters, disagreed.

Seonaid Stevenson-McCabe, Katy MacAskill and Màiri McAllan, co-founders of RebLaw Scotland, had suggested this week, “in the spirit of new year resolutions”, that “we should all leave behind this year is the use of ‘Dear Sirs’ in formal letters”.

They wrote: “The use of ‘Dear Sirs’ privileges the male norm. It tells women that we do not belong. Lady Hale, writing about the lack of women in the judiciary, noted that ‘the absence of women from the bench is even more important than our presence, in the message it sends out’. We suggest the same can be said here.”

The Law Society of Ireland last year announced it would “lead the way in discontinuing the use of this outdated greeting”.

Many of the responses we received welcomed the young lawyers’ suggestion.

“I’m no longer a practising solicitor, but I still work alongside solicitors. I’ve used ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ for over 10 years, and am very surprised that anyone would still use ‘Dear Sirs’,” said one reader.

Another wrote: “I prefer ‘To whom it may concern’: it may be less succinct, but it removes any implication of gender-related bias/assumption.”

But not everyone was thrilled with the proposal. Some readers said they had more important things to worry about, though they found time to leave a comment.

“Surely there are more important things to be addressing at this time? Who cares what the salutation says?”

Another explained: “Women are a lot more resilient than you think. I don’t know the position of the trans community.”

Others acknowledged that the terms refer to both men and women, but were not in favour of any formal change that would reflect this fact.

“I don’t see why it need be seen as gender-specific language. It’s a term of art. ‘Chairman’ (as opposed to ‘Chairman/Chairwoman’), ‘Actor’ (as opposed to ‘Actor/Actress’) and ‘Lord Ordinary’ (as opposed to Lord Ordinary/Lady Ordinary) are all prima facie gendered terms which are generally now considered not to denote the gender of the person holding those positions. ‘Sirs’ refers simply to the collective group of people, like ‘mankind’. It seems a bizarre thing to campaign about.”

Many readers opined that no alternative suggestions were made, despite the fact that they were.

One said: “What’s the alternative – ‘Dear Ladies’ or ‘Dear All’? I work in an all-female firm and to be honest we have more important things to be worrying about than the niceties of how a letter is addressed!”

One poor commenter said: “Yes, my training partner changes it if I use anything else though.” Another shouted: “You should only be asking the lassies this question!”

Said an irate respondent: “This is absolutely nonsensical and representative of the woke culture we now live in. There are real problems the Law Society could be dealing with including the legal aid crises, real gender equality. But no, let’s focus on the salutations for letters.”

Opinions among women differed too. 

“As a young woman entering the profession, having to use this phrase everyday irks me in its absurdity – why should I have to discount myself and my female colleagues when I am communicating within the profession?”

But another said: “I am a young female solicitor and have no issue with using ‘Dear Sirs’.”

One unhappy reader who voted ‘no’ expressed their hostility to any change by questioning the grammaticality of the phrase “best practice”, saying: “‘Best’ is a superlative adjective and therefore requires to be preceded by a singular article. Try not to write like an idiot”, seemingly unaware that it has become, appropriately, an idiomatic phrase that no longer requires an article.

Language, it would appear, changes.

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