It's on my mind at the moment, because this week I received a disturbing email. From a PR I'd never communicated with before, it was a standard 'Hello arbitrary journalist, please plug my product' email. But it ended with three kisses. THREE KISSES. It's virtually tongues. There are people I've known for years, people I've shared houses, bedrooms and ice lollies with, for whom three kisses would still seem gushingly forward. Three kisses basically leaves a trace of saliva on your inbox. I was affronted.
But worse than the three kisses (after I'd wiped my screen down several times with an antibac wipe I felt ready to let go and move on) is the problem of replying. What do you send back to three kisses? No kisses is a virtual blank. It's pulling away with a begrudging shoulder-pat when your date goes in for a doorstep snog. One kiss is worse, almost mocking, while two puts you into dangerous reciprocation territory. What if they reply with four? Then you with five? And before you know it, you've living together in a cottage in Dorset with a cat called Mr Whiskerson.
The trouble is, as with so many facets of modern life, there are no established rules. We need a 21st century Emily Post figure, guiding us firmly in the dos and don'ts of emoticon usage, exclamation mark application and 'reply all' politics. 'Emily Email', we could call her for the sake of accuracy. "Think carefully before you LMAO," she would instruct. "When often a ROFL will suffice."
Back in the midst of Threekissgate, and I'm still reeling. I'm used to over-familiarity at work, of course - maintaining a job in the media being the merry-go-round of mutual bottom-licking that it is - but this is excessive. Besides, journalistic integrity means my affections cannot be bought. Except with food, complimentary holidays or free electrical equipment.
By far the best thing to do, every time you're tempted to pop a little x on the bottom of a work email, is to test it out by doing the kiss out loud. Go on. If you can read "Hi Barry, It is imperative that you send the contract over before the end of the day so that we can secure client approval. MWAH" and feel completely comfortable, then by all means go ahead. If "Maud, you have consistently failed to top up the photocopier toner and been caught stealing post-it notes from the stationery cupboard. Therefore I am afraid we have no choice but to terminate your contract. Hugs 'n' snuggles." seems to fit the bill, then knock yourself out.
But just remember, kisses on a screen can quickly translate into real-life kisses, and then you've got a whole new trauma on your hands. For details: see last week's column.