Dear Gentle Penguin,
I love writing letters and sometimes even enjoy writing e-mail messages. One of my favorite things about both are the post scripts.
Postscripts (alt. post scriptum, which means “written after” in Latin) are described as a sentence, a paragraph, or occasionally many paragraphs added to, often hastily and incidentally, after the signature of a letter.
My favorite are the kind not really relating to anything in the letter or e-mail, but rather intended to inspire a smile, instigate thought, make a reply easier or more pressing, or forge a stronger connection.
For instance, in writing an e-mail response to a dermatologist with whom I’ve been helping ghostwrite an article and maneuver it through a long and convoluted journal publishing project I couldn’t help ending thus:
PS, you’ll be happy to know that my dog Theo (who is often admired for his skin and coat health) has approved your manuscript. He read it quite intently and diligently while propping up on the corner of my desk this afternoon, presumably to enjoy the heat being put out by my laptop battery. But I know he’s very interested in your work.
Perhaps it was a bit excessive to tell on my dog, but it made the next few conversations a bit less tense as he teasingly wondered “well, what would Theo think?”
On the Monday after Valentine’s Day, someone in an agency I’m subcontracting with to create a huge event at an international conference randomly sent this postscript to a rather wearisome and lengthy string of logistics e-mails:
PS, if anyone asks, I did it for the money…it was most definitely the money.
Was he admitting a crime? Had he proposed to the girl he met last week on Match.com? Or was he giving commentary on the project?
I don’t know, but I was in giggles as several responses quickly followed specifically addressing his postscript. And I must admit, Gentle Penguin, I’ve found him much more fun to work with since.
But I write tonight because I hadn’t really appreciated the power of the postscript until yesterday when, in a different, but trudgery-ish e-mail exchange about branding controls within a large metropolitan physicians group, I tagged on the following:
PS, you’ll be happy to know the pocketknife was unnecessary for the people I met back in those hills were the kindest, nicest I’ve ever met! And the moonshine wasn’t bad either ;)
You see, I had committed a modern-age postscript faux pas. One of the two readers had no context for my comment. And he was/is a rather formal chap at a fairly high level in the organization.
Except, not oops. He immediately replied back about how random, but interesting (and possibly odd) the postscript was. When I explained (formally and briefly) that I had spent the weekend researching legal moonshine distillers in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains for an article I’m writing, he confessed his love of bourbon, which led to a conversation about drinking glasses, which led to a funny story about glass blowing, which led to a chat about photographs of 80-foot-high volcanic lava bubbles bursting, which led to …
Hopefully, you catch my drift.
What is it about the postscript that makes it so powerful of a connector? I don’t know if there’s any research on it, but my guess is it makes you more human to the reader.
In a medium where 93 percent of the message is missing, it provides, perhaps, a glimpse into your personality, state of being, etc., while also conveying—no, daring the reader to engage and respond.
That isn’t to say that we should all go around post-scripting everything. But I truly think that, sometimes, a well-place postscript might just be the thing to make us less alien.
PS, if a postscript doesn’t help, there’s always moonshine–now legal in most states…provided the government gets its cut of the profit.
PPS, (post postscript, or postquam post scriptum) a secondary postscript is correctly labeled PPS, not PSS as is commonly seen today. PSS is the noise my teenage daughter made at me today in jest, but which my dog Theo (the one with great skin and coat) interpreted as an unacceptable form of disrespect and made sure she knew not to do it again.
PPPS, talking about moonshine and aliens reminded me of a cool fact that, of course, I must tell you! One of the cities I visited was named New Straitsville, and though it’s only about two hours from my home, I’d never heard of it despite its apparently worldwide fame as both a moonshine town and as the location of the longest burning fire in the world. Seems the miners set fire to their mine in a labor dispute back in the late 1800s and it’s not gone out yet. (Side note to my postscript:: So I learned about this mine fire on Friday then tonight, while watching the Genealogy Roadshow, one of the families from Boston, living in Philadelphia was descended from one of the five miners involved in setting the fire. Random!!! I know! I love it when things like that happen…)