I’m so sorry, I apologize

Spain King Juan Carlos sorry for Botswana hunt trip

Princess Cruises sorry for ignoring Panama castaways

Bev Oda apologizes for swanky hotel stay

To be ‘sorry’ is to feel sorrow.

‘Apology’ comes from the Latin apologia: ‘a written defence or justification of the opinions or conduct of a writer, speaker, etc.’ (O.E.D.)

The first example of ‘apology’ in the OED is Sir Thomas More’s explanation of his resignation as Chancellor of England in 1533. This was not an apology in the modern sense; rather it was an account and defence of his actions.

In that era, words were actions.

No amount of verbal dexterity, however, could save Sir Thomas’ neck, and he was beheaded.

These meanings were transformed during the French Revolution and the creation of gentleness, specifically, the gentleman, a person of manners. This was an emotional as much as a political revolution.

Now, you bump into someone accidentally, you spill some soup at a dinner party, you hit a baseball through a neighbour’s window. You are ‘sorry’. Your ‘apology’ is not a defence of your actions but an acknowledgement of wrongdoing, and regret for any unintended offence. If your apology is accepted, the relationship is restored and no damage is done.

Note that the examples above suggest that ‘sorry’ and ‘apology’, which we have come to associate with the world of etiquette, manners, politeness, are now being abused by their use in a rather different context.

To hunt elephants while your country is in turmoil is rather different from accidentally bumping into someone.

For the crew of a cruise ship to ignore the plight of castaways, which resulted in the death of two of them, is not akin to spilling soup at a dinner party.

When International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda lives the high life at tax payers’ expense, this has no resemblance to accidentally breaking a neighbour’s window.

In each case, the apology came only after having been found out.

In the traditional meaning, the actions were accidental or at least unintended, and were regretted immediately. The offence was due to something one did.

This new meaning refers to deliberate, intentional actions, that are regretted immediately one is caught. These actions are such that they reflect the character of the individual. It is no longer a case of something one did, but of something one is.

The honourable action, in each case, is to remove oneself from the position.

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