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me and my friend write letters to each other and we pondered the question: Why do we start letters with "dear"? I know this is, Just how things are, but like who started it and WHY the word "dear"? why not use another word. anyways just pondering the origin of using Dear in letter-writing. thanks!!
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Hi,

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary : "As a polite introductory word to letters, it is attested from mid-15c."

It is a formal and polite way to address someone. When writing to friends I usually just say "Hi". Sometimes I will just start the letter (generally email) with their name: "John, how's things?"
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ok i get that it's polite and stuff... but what is the Origin? like why the word "dear"? why can't it be another thing? who decided lets use dear?
The philological meaning of the word dear dates back to Latin. The word Charity is defined by Google as, "late Old English (in the sense ‘Christian love of one's fellows’): from Old French charite, from Latin caritas, from carus‘dear.’" It must mean a form of Christian love, benevolent goodwill, generosity or helpfulness.

What most people don't realise is that originally, "Dear Michael" (for example) was the actual 'address' (as in: "How did you address the Bishop?" "I usually referred to him as My Lord.")

It wasn't until urban adresses were properly codified that senders started to refer to the full name, house number, street name, district, city, country etc. as "the name and address".

Other addresses might include Master (for those over 13 (maybe) and under 18), Mister, Miss, Mrs., Mr., My Lord, My Lady, Your Excellency, Your Highness, Your Majesty etc. etc. These addresses remained in vogue long after the decline of the aristocracy in various cuntries, particularly in countries wishing to retain a romantic attachment to their past or to conjure up a respectability (Esquire) and suggest that an attainment of the rank of "gentleman". So many of these addresses originated in old aristocratic or the feudal system (traces of which can still be found in land law, but which are rapidly disappearing).

The address would often be embellished by calligraphy if it was a letter on a special occasion (for example if the eldest son on a loved or respected landlord reached the age of manhood, the tenants would often get together and pay for an embellished address to be presented (often guilded with gold leaf or expensive dye or inks).


The address is not to be confused with a salutation which was the greeting which would follow the address (Address: Dear Mister Smyth,.Salutation: We hope that this letter finds you in your usual splendid health...) but nowadays such a salutation would be considered sychophantic and overly flattering.


So is there a real function of 'Dear' etc.? Yes, though in such a state of decline except in heraldic circles, they are now considered largely anachronistic and old-fashioned. The distinction would often be very subtle in connection with the tone or intent of the letter ("Dear Mr Smyth,", "My Dear Mr Smyth,", "Smyth,", "Dear John", "My Dear John,", "My Dearest John," etc.

Are they being replaced? In business or formal letters, no, not really. In informal letters definitely.

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