As a word geek, I am sometimes distressed when, despite our best intentions, the words we use fail us.
The source of my current concern is expressions of courtesy which convey no courtesy at all.
Take, for example, the phrase "Kind regards," which has somehow gained wide usage as a closing salutation in personal and business correspondence.
The only function of such phatic communication is to promote sociability. Therefore, it should make sense given the basic tenets of etiquette: acknowledge the other person's qualities, needs and interests, and make as little reference to one's own as possible.
If I sign a letter "Kind regards," am I not claiming to be kind myself, and therefore undermining my message?
I once had a colleague who would end his outgoing voicemail message with, "I will return your call at my earliest convenience."
I imagined he would get back to me after a few rounds of Quake and a coffee break. This may indeed have been the case, and that was his prerogative, but I doubt he actually meant to convey that message. My problem was not with the relative importance of my call to his schedule or the sincerity of his message, but rather with the inability of the expression "at my earliest convenience" to do the only job required of it. In the grammar of courtesy, the word "convenience" can only apply to the second person, never to the first. (And even then, I would hesitate to append "earliest." Does not the bossiness of "earliest" dilute the courtesy of "convenience?")
Compliments and deference move in one direction: from the speaker toward the other. To reverse this course in a message meant to convey politeness is to negate the only meaning such communication can claim.
This diatribe is not an apology for etiquette in correspondence, and if Gentle Reader should deign to write to me, I shall gratefully receive the letter, however it is signed. I am simply registering my bemusement at expressions which self-destruct in their own inconsistency. Closing a letter with "Kind regards" or promising to respond "at my earliest convenience" makes about as much sense to me as greeting someone at the water cooler with "Hi, how am I?"
Thank you for listening to my rant. I understand that you are a busy person, and I hope you will return here whenever it may be convenient. I do not presume to demand the earliest instance of that convenience.