Eggs are shaped the way to keep them safe in case of being laid on a cliff, ledge or other high place. It’s so they can’t roll in a straight line, so they can’t roll off the cliff and get splatted. If they roll, they will just go around in a small circle.

Another question I have recently managed to answer is: how do you address a business letter in a professional manner that avoids the throwback conventional formulation of “Dear Sirs” as though no company or firm could ever contain one, some or even all female members (as is the case with at least one firm that I have in the past addressed as “Dear Sirs”).

Answer: you just put: “Dear [firm name]”. As in “Dear Pinsent Masons” or “Dear Leaky Plumbing Group” or whatever.



On a related point, while we are engaged in questions and answers, how do you address a formal letter to a woman when you do not know her preferred title? Most of the usually touted options are likely to be annoying to at least some recipients, so personally I just stick to using the person’s full name. As in “Dear Andrea Dworkin”.

And how to respond effectively when someone addresses you in an irritating way?

The trouble is, because most people don’t think how they address you is important, they tend not to take too much effort over it and they think you are petty if you correct any errors. Yet how is it petty to want someone to use your own name instead of deciding for themselves what they will call you?

Anyway, the irritation factor is so huge that I have resolved just to say it, regardless of whose feathers I may ruffle. The trouble is that in my job I have to be, or at least to appear to be, a serious professional, and making “petty” complaints about what name people use doesn’t help with that image. So I’m working on different tones for telling people to use my name. Note the repeated use of the words “just” and “a bit”.

One I personally hate, especially when a man does it, is where an e-mail addressed to two or more women is begun “Dear ladies”. WTF? It happens to me a lot, because I work in a small, all-female team.

To the “Dear Ladies” e-mail, I respond to the actual content and then say something like: “PS One small thing I wanted to mention. It’s just that I personally don’t like to be addressed “Dear Ladies” – [although if you use my actual name that totally won’t annoy me at all.] Thanks!” If asked to justify myself, then depending on the context I might say “I just personally find it a bit patronising” or “Have you seen Little Britain?

People tend to get the message, although the last time I picked someone up on that, just the other week, the guy has never written me another e-mail to me – not even to say thanks for answering the question that he raised in the first place. Patronising and rude, all in one happy package.

The other one that ticks me off is where people start off a conversation using an over-familiar name, usually a shortened version of my name (which I do not like at all) or sometimes “love” (grrr!).

For these people, I generally interrupt them with something like: “Oh hang on, before you go any further, can I just ask you to call me [my name]” possibly followed up with “I know you didn’t mean anything by it but I get a bit annoyed when people call me X” or “I just feel a bit uncomfortable with being called X” or “I just prefer [my name]” depending on what kind of annoyed I am. I’ve never yet had to go so far as to say “Well, because it’s my name.” But I would if I had to: it’s the Big Gun.

There is one guy I deal with occasionally who randomly decided to start shortening my name, a couple of weeks ago – I explained in a friendly tone that I prefer to be called by my unshortened name, and then had to spend a good 2 minutes reassuring him that I wasn’t annoyed that he used the shortened name, that I understood that he wasn’t to know any better, that I just wanted to mention it so that in future he wouldn’t inadvertently annoy me before a conversation even begins, soothe, soothe – although, actually, where the hell does he get off thinking he can just mess about with my name, huh? So anyway he now pronounces it with great care every time I speak to him as if it is some huge effort of will just to use my actual name. Bear in mind also, that this guy is several levels below me in what passes for the management hierarchy so he hasn’t even got “superiority” to use as an excuse for being rude.

So anyway – gah! It may seem like a small thing, but this is just so rude. Where do people get off thinking they can (re-)name me against my will?


Oh dear, I got sidetracked. My third question was going to be something completely different but now I can’t even remember what. Instead, I started ranting and my “aside” turned into the whole rest of the post. Oh well.