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"To Whom It May Concern" - What does it mean, when is it used?

What is the purpose of this phrase, or should I use "Dear Sir/Madam"?

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Comments  (Page 5) 
Does this have something to do with that people like putting "longer" words at the end to draw attention. For example, when starting a speech, people say "Ladies and Gentlemen," where the world gentlemen is longer than the word ladies. While in "Dear Sir or Madam", Madam is longer than Sir. Just for fun.
Osee
Does this have something to do with that people like putting "longer" words at the end to draw attention. For example, when starting a speech, people say "Ladies and Gentlemen," where the world gentlemen is longer than the word ladies. While in "Dear Sir or Madam", Madam is longer than Sir. Just for fun.

I think the reason for writing "Dear Sir/Madam" is that in the past, when we didn't know whether the Director, Manager, etc was a man or a woman, we wrote "Dear Sir'. Later it was felt that it was unfair to write 'Dear Sir' because the person in authority might be a woman. In older grammar books, the advice is to write 'Dear Sir'.

Formerly, when we wrote 'he', it was understood that opposite sex was included. But nowadays we write he/she, he or she, or s/he.

A woman uses Ms if she doesn't want us to know whether she is married. Formerly, only 'mankind' was found in dictionaries. Nowadays, 'humankind' is also found.

If I'm not wrong, the above came about because of Women's Liberation.

This is my opinion. Other members may disagree.
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 anonymous's reply was promoted to an answer.
Really?

I have lived an worked in North America my whole life. And I have never seen 'Yours faithfully'. It's weird and seems more like an intimate ending. Of course my experience has been contained mostly to business and graduate school in Bio-chemistry. Maybe thats why. But now you have two data points from people saying they have not seen it used. I would maintain that there is a significant population of people that work professionally, that have not seen this.

So now I will take myself out of that population...

Yours faithfully
:-) Doug

PS - I am not weird, really!!
CliveHi guys,

I'd like to mention a point I offered some time ago. 'To whom it may concern' is so rarely used that I don't remember the last time I ever used it. Perhaps half a dozen times in my entire life. Other people have also noted that in this thread that it is not often, even rarely, used, but I feel that readres may be overlooking this advice.

There seems to be so much interest in this phrase that I am concerned that English learners are going to start large numbers of letters in a way that is totally inappropriate.

Best wishes, Clive

Are there any English??
As I know this phrase is commonly used in the UK.
So it will be better to ask some English about this.
I hope that Clive allow us to use the phrase.
Thank you Clive in advance!
Simona
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Note: he didn't talk about the phrase "Yours faithfully". He talked about the phrase "To whom it may concern".
Hi,
I hope that Clive allow us to use the phrase.

This sounds like you need my permission. You don't!

Best wishes, Clive
AnonymousReally?

I have lived an worked in North America my whole life. And I have never seen 'Yours faithfully'. It's weird and seems more like an intimate ending. Of course my experience has been contained mostly to business and graduate school in Bio-chemistry. Maybe thats why. But now you have two data points from people saying they have not seen it used. I would maintain that there is a significant population of people that work professionally, that have not seen this.

So now I will take myself out of that population...

Yours faithfully
:-) Doug

PS - I am not weird, really!!

I read through the whole thing and I want to ask about email endings - above was mentioned, that it may or my not sound strange the phrase "Yours faithfully". I personally agree but I guess it belongs to some sort of tradition. I have seen it mentioned in several books about Business correspondence and I know there are certain rules on how to use it properly.
But how about Best regards or Best wishes? It feels a bit more informal but I think it sounds/looks much better. Is it used often? Or what kinds of situations can I use it in?

Thanks a lot!
Lenka
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 It can be used to begin a suicide note.
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