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Danny Wallace: one humorous email and a heap of remorse


I have written a jaunty reply to an email from a man I don’t know very well, in which I made a little joke.

Just a little joke. Just a little, tiny joke.

It was intended to be the end of the correspondence, but now, a day later, he has taken the time to go back to it and reply to that conversation-ending email.

The reply is one line long.

It reads:

Your humorous response was well-received.

“Oh!” I think. “Well, that’s nice. Some people would have just left it. But he took the time to tell me that my humorous response was well-received.”

And then I start to make a cup of tea. And I frown. And I read it again.

Your humorous response was well-received.

That suddenly seems a weird thing to write. I shrug and I continue making the tea.

And then I have to get my phone out one more time.

Your humorous response was well-received.

Why do I feel mildly… threatened?

This is like an email you’d receive from The Terminator right after it ran its Pun Identifier Software and right before its opening volley of gunfire. Or a placatory remark beamed across every screen on Earth by a vengeful alien emperor. It is almost like a sentence written by a human, but not quite. It is a sentence designed to be said with dead eyes. Imagine someone saying it with enthusiasm. “Your humorous response was well-received!!!” They’d sound absolutely insane.

And even if it’s not a DeathBot and just a standard human man that’s sending me this unsolicited feedback on my email, ‘humorous’ is not the same as ‘funny’, and ‘well-received’ is not the same as ‘enjoyed’. I feel like by making a joke he didn’t like I’ve lost his respect and will now never have it. I’m not looking for that crying-with-laughter emoji – because anyone who uses that deserves an instant electric shock – but the overall message here is, “I have decided to let you know I will tolerate you.”

Your humorous response was well-received??!

Well, who the hell does this man think he is?!

He could have left it. Why extend the correspondence? The fact he sent it at all speaks, I’m afraid, of a certain arrogance. Oh, is he the arbiter of humorous responses, is he? Has he submitted my response for the standard 24-hour consideration period and decided after careful deliberation and on the advice of his Humorous Response Panel to go with the ‘mild approval’ stamp? Is he sitting on a throne behind a big oak desk, having individual emails read out to him, ‘receiving’ them, the way a king receives visiting dignitaries? That seems prohibitively time-consuming; they’re just emails.

Just one exclamation mark would have taken the edge off, I ruefully consider. That single full-stop is like a joke’s death sentence.

Wait – what was it that I even wrote again?

I scroll down and find the humorous response in question.

I wince. It’s just a few light-hearted words! A throwaway line.

But now I feel like he’s judging my entire personality on a quip.

“It was never intended to be biting satire!” I feel like shouting. “It was a quip! And now I’ve lost your respect! I never considered how it would be… received!”

Unless! What if by “well-received” he just means he successfully received the email? What if he’s accurately describing the response as “humorous” while letting me know both our ISPs did the very least we expect of them?

No, he doesn’t mean that at all.

But wait. I can use this. Maybe this is my way of putting my mind at rest. I just need to extend the correspondence by one more exchange. Then I’ll be fine. I’ll write something excellent and I’ll get respect and a better response. I’m not obsessing. I could stop whenever I want. But just one more. Just one.

“Ha!” I write. “I am pleased it was well-received. Which assume simply means you received it!”

Send. Whoosh. I shut my eyes.

That was a terrible response. TERRIBLE. It’s so try-hard! And look, I missed out the “I” before “assume”. Now it’s jarring, too! It’s the WORST. I’m the WORST. I should have left things at “well-received”. Well-received is good. Why did I think I could better well-received? Now I have weakened a well-received humorous response with something that barely makes sense, jars and needily extends the conversation. If I were him I’d just ignore it. He’s probably staring at it right now, his lip curling in disgust.

But within one minute… DING. He’s replied!

And he’s sent a crying-with-laughter emoji!

He respects me! I am fine! I am BACK!

And then I take another look at the emoji.

I do not respect this man.


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