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Women on top when it comes to e-mail etiquette

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aj+. column

I see one of my colleagues has been getting it in the AJ's Letters page for being sexist. I guess there is a point.

When you read recent harassment cases highlighting a sicko culture among City types, then I think quite right too.

And you have a bit of sympathy for businesses that frown on and even ban office romances. The difficult statistic here is that despite such bans (or maybe because of them) 30 per cent of relationships start in the office.

Whatever, it is nice to report that one area where there is genuine parity between the sexes is in e-mail use. In the US it is 50:50, and it is getting that way here, too. By 2005 in the UK the figure will be 60:40 in favour of women.

No, I do not know why that should be, but it gives the lie to the generalization that women are inept at techie things.

Still, you might be relieved to know that there are detectable, politically correct differences between the sexes and, according to a recent Observer article, they can be ascertained by more than secondary sexual attributes such as hair growth patterns. It seems that you can now tell by analysing e-mails.

According to a linguistics expert from Indiana University (the place, incidentally, where Charles Kennedy, did a masters degree in political rhetoric) has shown that men make stronger assertions, disagree with each other and use rude words and sarcasm.

Women are diplomatic, ask questions, make suggestions and use polite language. A quite horrifying amount of funding went into discovering that.

It seems that the male/female e-mail test asks whether there are any expletives, whether the author presumes the rest of the world is of inferior intelligence, whether or not the e-mail invites an answer and whether the e-mail would make more sense were it longer. No research funds for working out which is which.

Another not-infallible but generally good test of the sex of a writer is to read the name at the top of the e-mail.

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