Kindly answer my question about the word "kindly"
December 31, 2005 11:13 AM   Subscribe

Do you use "please" or "kindly" to soften a formal imperative? And if you say "kindly," why?
posted by Saucy Intruder to Writing & Language (21 answers total)
My planned [more inside] is pointless, so I scrapped it. Basically, I've seen "kindly" used with greater frequency, and was wondering why.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 11:14 AM on December 31, 2005

I had suggested compassionate conservatism might have something to do with it but I guess editfilter didn't think it was too helpful.
posted by j.p. Hung at 11:28 AM on December 31, 2005

I think I've heard "kindly" more often, too. I attributed it to a creeping Southernization. I've heard it more often in the phrase "Thank you kindly" than as a substitute for "please".
posted by Miko at 11:40 AM on December 31, 2005

I use "kindly" in business emails only, as shorthand for "Please be kind enough to *bleep*." I have to manage people, but can't stand to use an authoritative style so tend to use a lot of these types of softeners.
posted by hazyjane at 11:41 AM on December 31, 2005

"Please," yes. "Kindly," no. The latter sounds more patronizing and less sincere to my ear.
posted by cribcage at 11:46 AM on December 31, 2005

Ditto what cribcage said.
posted by JanetLand at 11:48 AM on December 31, 2005

I use "kindly" in business letters as well.

We ask that you kindly forward your non-sufficient funds charge to us by January 10, 2006.

I'm trying to be polite, and have probably already used "please" in another portion of the letter, as in

Please be reminded that there is $25.00 charge on your account for a returned cheque for December's rent.
posted by Savannah at 12:07 PM on December 31, 2005

I think "kindly" is appropriate when you think you may be overstepping your bounds with a stranger and want to not come off as a wanker.

With people you know or work with, it just makes you sound patronizing or even more controlling. If there is a problem, people you work with should be afforded the dignity to not have to diffuse a "kindly" bomb before getting to the point.

Please works.
posted by parallax7d at 12:08 PM on December 31, 2005

Kindly reminds me of "would you kindly take your feet off the furniture."
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:17 PM on December 31, 2005

I never use "kindly" unless I'm taking the piss. It seems stiff and sorta prissy to Brit ears and eyes, I think. I just say "please", or occasionally, "I'd appreciate it if you'd...."
posted by Decani at 12:45 PM on December 31, 2005

I use "kindly" all the time, because it sounds old-timey, which I like. I also address little boys as "young man" for the same reason.

Also, there is a poem by e.e. cummings whose first line is "kindly unhitch that star, buddy" and I like to think about it very often.
posted by scratch at 1:05 PM on December 31, 2005 [1 favorite]

All the team from India at my work use the word "kindly". I rather like it, except when they end their emails with the phrase "Kindly do the needful." which just brings a smile to my face.
posted by furtive at 1:08 PM on December 31, 2005

That's a great line scratch. Do you talk old timey all the time, or only on occasion?

Sometimes when answering the phone I will use "Ahoy hoy" instead of "Hello".
posted by parallax7d at 1:47 PM on December 31, 2005

I'm not hearing 'kindly', sounds like Jed Clampett: 'Thank ye kindly Mr Drysdale'.

Based on the speech-is-getting-shorter theory I'd say 'please' will prevail because it's one syllable but in decending order of likelihood you'll hear:

Take your feet off the sofa.

Please take your feet off the sofa.

Take your feet of the sofa, thanks.

Kindly take your feet off the sofa.

I'll thank you to take your feet off the sofa.

Thanks in advance for taking your feet off the sofa.

I would appreciate it if you would take your feet off the sofa.

You sir: kindly be a proper gentleman, and take your feet off the sofa.
posted by scheptech at 2:00 PM on December 31, 2005 [1 favorite]

I grew up in the south, and I say "thank you kindly" and "thank you much". I do not use kindly in place of the word please.

However, kindly can be used in a somewhat threatening manner too. "I'm going to kindly ask you to step outside" means that the next time I ask is not going to be in a kind manner at all.
posted by tumble at 2:14 PM on December 31, 2005

In the interests of science and boredom, I searched through my gmail account that I use for work emails and found that, in 1,233 emails, the word "kindly" was used 24 times.

* It was used 16 times in emails to a group of people from my boss. 14 of these times it was in the phrase "you are kindly requested to". In each of these emails he had used the word "please" at least once already.

* It was used twice by me, in the phrase "so-and-so has kindly agreed to help us with such-and-such", in emails where so-and-so was on copy.

* It was used once by my mum, a Brit, saying that someone had kindly brought her something she needed (maybe I got my usage from her).

* The 5 remaining times it was used by non-native speakers in well-meaning phrases that don't sound quite right to my ears - for example, "kindly find the attached file", "the question I kindly ask you is", etc

What does this prove? Well, not much. Okay, nothing. But I did notice that:

1. A man in a high position of authority is the only person who used the word to soften a directive (I thought I do this, but it turns out I actually don't)

2. Two women used the word to praise someone else's action rather than to request an action.

3. Non-native speakers seem to like the word kindly much more than native speakers do (my boss is a non-native speaker).
posted by hazyjane at 2:20 PM on December 31, 2005

From the American Heritage Dictionary of English Usage:
When kindly means “please,” or “would you be so kind (or so good),” however, the situation becomes a bit more complicated. In Kindly step to the back of the bus and Kindly keep off the grass, kindly means “please,” but it’s a very emphatic sort of “please,” as the imperiousness of Kindly keep your distance demonstrates. And, as Kindly permit me to pass suggests, it is Formal and can deliberately distance the speaker from the person(s) addressed.
posted by camcgee at 3:08 PM on December 31, 2005

I use it in business letters, picked it up from work originally, might start using it in informally.
posted by Chimp at 3:10 PM on December 31, 2005

Imperative "kindly" sounds officious and snarky to me. I would never use "kindly" in this way, and I don't believe it's been used except ironically in my country for about 50 years; my mother for example only ever used it for ironic emphasis. (Native English speaker, New Zealand). The adjective "kindly" and adverb "kindly" are still delightful.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:45 PM on December 31, 2005

I'm originally from the midwestern U.S. "Kindly" always seemed so over-the-top to me that I generally use it tongue in cheek, if at all. As i_am_joe's_spleen said, it sounds officious to my ears. I will waste all sorts of syllables on gentling requests.
posted by moira at 6:34 PM on December 31, 2005

Hmm, I never use kindly and it sounds weird to my American ears. In my personal gmail account, the word "kindly" appears zero times. The word "please" appears 130 times.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:19 PM on December 31, 2005

« Older Failed WMP install leaves me in BSOD/reboot loop   |   Using RedirectMatch with URLs containing question... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.