Being Formally Ridiculous

I’ve been analysing some of my old cold emails and letters and found a pattern I use that I’ve not spoken about. I start a sentence using words that are often used in formal (or at least sensible) correspondence. “I trust,” and “I await” are good examples. I’ll then complete these sentences with something unusual. “I trust this will charm you into submission,” or “I await your profanity-filled response.”

It almost fits the standard joke formula:

This builds the expectation that the rest of the sentence is going to continue down the same path. The reader is then misdirected as the remainder of the sentence isn’t congruent with the set up.

I doubt many of you would write the following closing line in an email:

“I await your response with great interest.”

It’s a bit old fashioned. I’ve seen this line in a lot of old handwritten letters. The addition of one word can transform this into something that may elicit a smirk:

“I await your baffled response with great interest.”

The word ‘baffled’ sticks out. It sounds funny, especially when surrounded by serious sounding words. I began thinking about this after seeing my brother Gary’s ‘gag’ reference letter he got from an old employer. Printed on headed paper, the letter built the expectation of formal copy. The opening lines build further;

“Dear Sir or Madam,


I have known Gary Buchan since he came to work at my team in March 2000, I am unsure why Gary has picked me to provide a reference for him. Perhaps he feels that of all the managers within this organisation, I am the one he has offended the least. I would wish to disabuse you of this notion straight away.”

It goes on – but I wanted to focus just on this bit. I love that line, “I would wish to disabuse of you of this notion straight away.” It’s such a serious statement but is hilarious in this particular context. This is an area you can have a lot of fun with. You can play around with the syntax of formal dialogue and make it funny.

Humour is about many things, two of which being surprise and incongruence. This is a great way of being able to deliver both.

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