“How can an email find me, and find me well?” asked a student of mine. Though not very popular with many email users today, this sentence is quite interesting and worth talking about.
A student of mine once asked about this email opening sentence. She didn’t know how an email, as an inanimate object, would literally FIND the recipient. Yesterday, I came across the same question again on Zhihu, a popular Chinese Q&A site paralleled by Quora.
It should be noted that the word “well” here is not an adverb but an adjective, which describes a state of good physical health or satisfaction.
— How is your sister?
— She’s very well. Thank you.
Also, the verb “to find” does not mean “to discover / to obtain.” Instead, it means “to experience” or “to look at.”
My sister quit the job because she found it much too demanding. (= She regarded the job as extremely onerous.)
Therefore, such parlance as “this email finds you well” actually employs the tool of personification: when this email gets to you, I hope that it (on my own behalf) witnesses the fact that you are sound in both body and mind.
In English, “you” can be one person or a group of people. In light of this, 「展信佳」(to a singular recipient) and「闊府康泰」(to an extended family, usually of high social standing) might be qualified Chinese equivalents.
Although it’s a sophisticated expression, I won’t expect anyone to use it, for it sounds a bit old-fashioned and hackneyed to me. In this Digital and Information Age, we’re suffering infobesity to a great extent. When trying to reach someone, always bear in mind that brevity is a virtue. Instead of being annoyingly wordy, simply use I hope you’re well, which should sound much better.