Sorry. A common term in today’s society which barely has a meaning anymore. It used to be what you would say when you had made a genuine mistake. As humans, these days we are just wired to say it. If somebody knocks into you in a bar and spills your drink and you automatically reply: “Oh sorry, didn’t mean to get in your way” or if a stranger in the street stops you in the street and asks to borrow a lighter many of us nervously whisper “Sorry mate but I don’t smoke” or something along the lines of that. What kind of world do we live in where you have to apologise about the fact a stranger has just trod on your beautiful brand new khaki boots!?
The thing is it’s a very British principle. Us Brits are brought up to believe that manners don’t cost a penny and that other people must always be put first. For example when discussing what you and a friend got up to, you can’t simply say “Me and Joe went to the cinema” because that would be considered improper, thus taboo in our British vocabulary. You have to say “Joe and I went to the cinema” or else you are a considered a disgrace to your country (and its grammatical rules)!
According to the BBC, 86% of Brits admit the word is used flippantly to excuse antisocial or inappropriate behaviour. So apparently we deem another person barging into you whilst running for the bus or train antisocial or inappropriate. 19% of apologies are aimed at strangers. Unless you have made a genuine mistake I don’t think it’s morally right to apologise to somebody you don’t know. This study showed that the top reason for saying the “S word” is when we don’t have time to speak to someone/ do something. Okay fair enough, us Brits are also guilty of working hard. The third most common apology was when we need someone to repeat something. As someone who is hard of hearing, I am often guilty of this. What struck me the most was at the bottom, the fifth most common was what should be the most genuine and meaningful apology. When we feel the need to apologise for lying, double crossing or letting somebody down. Ouch.
Distressed and painful
The dreaded word has derived from Old English meaning “distressed” and “painful”. In an ideal world we would stop saying sorry on a day to day basis and only say it when we genuinely mean it so when we are distressed- if you’re unable to meet your friend apparently it’s nothing a good old fashioned apology can’t solve. On the other hand apologising for turning up to work or a meeting a whole whooping three minutes early is not necessary. We even apologise when other people are clearly wrongdoing: “Oh gosh I’m so sorry to bother you but would you mind turning your music down a tad? Thank you so much!” Children involved in petty arguments at school are told to apologise to another child when the teacher hasn’t even heard their side of the story. And then when they reluctantly hesitate, mutter the two word magic “I’m sorry” (which apparently makes the whole situation disappear) furthermore they are told to say it like they mean it. In an ideal society the simple answer should be if you aren’t genuinely sorry, don’t say it.
Why do we do it to ourselves and each other- is it a lack of confidence? Is it that we feel the need to be liked by others? Is it because we are so sincerely apologetic that we couldn’t hear what someone said? The fact that when one tells us that we didn’t need to apologise we still reply “Okay I am so sorry”? Who knows? Perhaps we need to accept that it is a British mannerism and accept it as we accept apologies from people we are ragingly angry with.