Not Your Mama

I was a 2nd Lieutenant in the Air Force (read – brand new officer) and sending an email to my Lt Col Commander (read – not a brand new officer, much higher ranking).  I typed the email then boldly clicked send without reading it over.  It didn’t take long for that I-hope-I-didn’t-type-something-stupid feeling to set in, so I opened the email I’d just sent and there it was:

Instead of starting the email with


I’d typed (and sent)


There’s really no need to state this but the difference between “Ma’am” and “Mama” is devastatingly huge.  Once I regained control of my breathing, I debated my options:

  1.  Get in my car and leave, never to return.  This option could easily end in federal prison time; going AWOL is frowned upon.
  2. Pray she didn’t notice the slip.  Right.  Not likely.
  3. Correct my error in some brilliant way.  Not possible, short of announcing I was actually her long, lost daughter.

 I was left with no choice but to walk to her office and apologize in person.  Fortunately for me, she was a commander with a sense of humor.  Unfortunately, she found it funny enough to share with others.  I learned to respect the power of “Send.”

While I think the topic of email etiquette is overdone, it’s still a topic near and dear to my heart, making it painful to type and post my last entry, Email Gone Bad.  (Apologies all around for that one, by the way!  Unfortunately, emails like that are sent out daily – scary, right?) A comprehensive list of email etiquette could have over 100 tips; I’m limiting myself to 10:

  1. Don’t abuse To, Cc’s and Bcc’s.  The To field is for people who are directly affected by or need to take action on the information in the email.  CC’s are for people who need to be kept informed of the information but don’t need to take action.  Bcc’s are used when you need to keep people’s email addresses private.  Don’t use Bcc’s to be sneaky – it rarely works and just makes you look shady.
  2. Be sure your subject line truly states the subject of the email.  If it’s an email that’s been replied to and forwarded several times, update the subject. 
  3. Start with a greeting and end with a closing. 
  4. Address people in an email with the same level of formality that you would in person.
  5. Spelling and grammar matter in emails.  Actually, the quality of your writing may matter even more in an email because once you send it out into the world you no longer have control over where it’s sent!
  6. Don’t use email (professionally or personally) to spread anything that could be considered gossip.  Again, you have no control over who ends up reading your words!
  7. ALL CAPS is yelling so should normally be avoided.  Also, exclamation marks and smiley faces rarely (never?) have a place in professional emails.  (I’m an exclamation mark and smiley face abuser – I overuse them in an attempt to soften the tone of my words.  I’m working on it!!! 🙂 )
  8. Don’t mix business with non-business in emails.  If you want to make lunch plans, type it in a separate email.  You don’t want your craving for a burrito forwarded to other people along with the taskings from a meeting!
  9. Don’t use text type in work emails.  Use letters for words, not numbers.  All vowels should be included in all words.  If you laugh out loud, enjoy the laugh but keep the LOL out of the email. 
  10. Forwarded jokes or political emails don’t belong at work and should be sent out sparingly even in personal emails.  There’s a fine line between entertaining and annoying!

Bonus Tip: Don’t refer to a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force as Mama. 

Do you have any email tales of horror?  Other than reading my last post?!?!?! 🙂 🙂

20 thoughts on “Not Your Mama

  1. Thanks for the giggle, Amy…

    My personal pet peeve with e-mail is when someone forwards something to me, they don’t take the previous e-mail addresses off…

    There are also those annoying people who hit “Reply All” when it’s really not necessary…


      1. Hi Amy,

        Great list — and such a fabulous example of why proof reading is so important!

        I’m a stickler for the “acknowledgment” email. If you send a note to someone asking a question or for information about a subject, event, etc., take a moment and send a thank you to the person who took the time and effort to respond to you.

        If you were having the conversation face to face, would you turn and walk away after receiving the answer to your question? No, you would say something to finish things off. The same concept applies to email communication.

      2. Jodi,
        Thanks! The acknowledgment email is a great idea. That’s actually not a tip that makes most email etiquette lists but it should and I’m adding it to mine. It takes less than a minute to email back a quick thank you.

        Thanks for the comment,

  2. Ha! That sucks about calling your Lt. Col Commander Mama…funny though.
    Once I wrote an email to my boyfriend. Well, I had a platonic friend with the same first name. When I went to fill in the address I just typed the first name, the address was automatically filled in, hit enter and send.
    OOPS! I didn’t realize my error until I asked my boyfriend if he liked the email I’d sent him. His response was “what email?” I checked my email, and my friend had responded…very confused!
    Luckily the email was only a little bit racey and my friend and boyfriend had a great sense of humor.
    I now double check my addresses before I hit send!

  3. Love it! Unfortunately I don’t think she shared it with me. 😦

    My biggest e-mail blunders always involve typing an immediate response to an infuriating e-mail. Many are situations where I should step away from the computer for a few minutes and collect my thoughts…instead I chose to type a harshly written response. I end up feeling like a clown several hours later…but it felt good at the time.

    Have a wonderful day Ma’ma.


    1. Hi!
      I’m the same way with responding too quickly. I’ve started deleting the address in the To field before I type so I have to think before I hit Send!

      I’m actually feeling better about my story knowing it didn’t make its way over to the MPF! All the 2 CS CGO’s knew by lunch though and made a point to stop by my office to laugh at me. Good times. 🙂


  4. Hi Amy-

    Writerwoman stole one of my “dislikes.” I despise reply all abuse.

    One thing you didn’t say explicitly in your piece (but addressed it perfectly) was when you shouldn’t send an email, but use a face to face exchange.

    I have no e-mail tales of horror. I am going to include a post here, not to pimp my blog, but so others may avoid writing tales of horror. Thanks for the little bit of help from Mark Twain.

    I have to go back and read your previous post.

    Be well Ma’ma.


    1. Mike,
      Great post and I love Mark Twain’s solution. (I’m a Twain fan – Missouri boy and all!) I won’t spoil it here but hope people will click on your link and read how Twain handles responding in anger.

      Sorry in advance about the previous post!

      Thanks again,

  5. Great list, Amy. And great anecdote. My biggest hang-up with emails is people not proofreading and editing them like they would any other piece of writing. Cripes, I re-read my comments three times before I submit them. However, that probably has more to do with my personal feelings for written expression than how much time should go into every email.

    Take care,


  6. Great list, but I sometimes have to make exceptions to Rule No. 2.

    Once, for example, I needed a response from someone who rarely bothered to read her email. I’d heard her talking earlier about how much she loved some New Kids on the Block reunion concert she’d gone to the night before, so, in the subject line, I wrote something like, “NKOTB on TV tonight!”

    She read it and responded within 10 seconds. Can’t use that trick too often, but it comes in handy, sometimes!

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