Dear Professional People, Please Stop Using the Word “Unfortunately”
There’s an epidemic in modern speech that I would be glad to see eradicated: the widespread and incorrect use of the word “unfortunately.” I’ve developed a profound distaste for it after repeatedly seeing and hearing it in the most absurd contexts. People bandy it about everywhere and this needs to stop. It is lousy with hubris, presumption, and condescension. It is out of proportion to the matters at hand. It assumes too much. It assumes what cannot be known.
Just this morning, I got an email from a company that I had applied to for a job several months ago. The position had been filled and the email began with “Unfortunately.” It didn’t stop there. It went on to say, “I am sorry for the disappointing news.” What’s that, Company? I didn’t quite catch that last part. My eyes were blurry with the tears I started crying when I read “unfortunately.” I wish that in these instances, it wasn’t poor form, unprofessional, or insecure-seeming to reply with something along the lines of:
GET OVER YOURSELVES. Best of luck in finding a suitable candidate. I am grieving, knowing you will be deprived of my skills and abilities that would be such an asset to your business. I am beside myself to be deprived of the refreshing experience of counting myself among your boldest and brightest. Unfortunately, I am not interested in the position, have already found another one, and I wouldn’t be able to accept it if you had selected me because, on principle, I don’t work with people who use the word “unfortunately” in emails. I hope we all recover from this.
I’ll tell you what’s unfortunate: death, disease, hunger, bankruptcy, abandonment, war. Quite a few things could go under e heading of “Unfortunate:” job loss, getting dumped or divorced, losing a friend or loved one, a cancer diagnosis, being unable to get pregnant, getting pregnant at age 15, a tsunami, economic meltdown, the 2016 US presidential candidacy. But being passed over for a mediocre, low-paying job? Or when a customer service agent tells you that, unfortunately, she can’t waive a late fee or lower your interest rate? It is not unfortunate when your local Thai restaurant runs out of green curry. It is not unfortunate when the keg of IPA blows and you’re forced to drink amber ale. It is not unfortunate when Netflix is buffering or you exceed your data limit or an investor isn’t interested in your idea or the line at the grocery store is ridiculously long.
I just looked up synonyms for “unfortunate.” Among them: “wretched,” “miserable,” “forlorn,” “poor,” and “pitiful.” So, slow your roll: companies, customer service agents, members of the professional Western world. Don’t get me started on how many literary agencies use this word. They have a rejection letter template in their email account. The only word in this template is “Unfortunately” and they figure, “I’ll just fill in the rest of the rejection emails on a case-by- case basis. The only thing these suckers need to know is that I’m saying ‘no’ and it’s a terrible misfortune for these wretched souls.”
My solution to this violation of human communication? I don’t know. I’ve been racking my brains for alternatives. Maybe simply the word “Next?”? (Both question marks intentional.) Or a two-word email saying, “Moving on.” Or “That being said …” How about, “All things being equal,” and leave it at that? Okay. I don’t have a solution (yet). Maybe don’t respond at all. That sends a message that is easy to interpret and that doesn’t assume anything. It doesn’t presume anything about a human being or their life or the circumstances surrounding their cursory gesture of applying for a job, offering an idea, or requesting a humble touch of true customer service.
Maybe just, “Fortunately for all involved [fill in the blank: you didn’t get the job, we’re not funding your startup, we’re not interested in your manuscript, we’re out of green curry, all we have is amber ale, interest rates are not going down, the late fee won’t be waived, the internet is running slow, you’re not leaving this grocery store anytime soon].” If something needs to be said or sent, just a little honesty without the arrogance. That’s all I’m asking.
Regrettably, I don’t see an end to this misused-word trend in sight.