Academic journal article et Cetera

Pardon Me for Breathing: Seven Types of Apology

Academic journal article et Cetera

Pardon Me for Breathing: Seven Types of Apology

Article excerpt

"Serious difficulties arise on the many occasions where the motivation behind an apology has some ambiguity."

I'M SORRY. Excuse me. Please forgive me. I beg your pardon. I apologize. What do we mean when we say we're sorry? It would seem that we can mean anything from remedial expressions of regret to sarcastic intimations of blame.

In our analysis, we have demarcated seven types of apology. To further understand these seven types, we have employed five etymologies, which we can use as formulas for investigation.

We shall assume that these five etymologies (marked a through e, respectively, and arranged in descending order of frequency of use (1)), have a rough analogy, even though one cannot necessarily replace them with one another, due to restrictions of syntax, context, and usage.

Five Etymologies for Apology

(a) "Sorry" derives from sore; has a similarity in use to German 'es tut mir leid', and to French 'je suis fache de ....'

(b) "Excuse" (ex-causa, structurally analogous to German 'ent-schuldigen,' to Russian 'iz-vinit' and to Spanish 'dis-culpar') directly speaks of the removal of accusation.

(c) & (d) "Forgive" (for-giefan), as well as the English/French "pardon" (perdonare) and the German 'vergeben,' indicate to give completely.

(e) "Apologize" (apo-logos, somewhat similar to Russian 'prostit') denotes speaking off, or a speech in defense.

We further explore these etymologies in the footnotes. (2)

For the purpose of analysis, we may regard these etymologies as formulas. Consider these recent news items. Following each item, we have put in parenthesis the letters indicating which of the five formulas/etymologies these apologies employ:

"Russian President Vladimir Putin apologized for the captives' deaths [held by Chechen rebels in a Moscow theatre] in a television address saying: 'Please forgive us. The memory of the victims must unite all of us'" (10-27-02 CNN). (e,c)

"Les excuses de Saddam Hussein au peuple koweitien: 'Nous demandons pardon a Dieu pour tout acte ayant souleve sa colere dans le passe ... et dans cet esprit, nous vous presentons egalement nos excuses'" (3) (12-7-02 Le Monde), (b, d, b)

Cardinal Bernard Law, on his resignation from the Archdiocese of Boston: "To all those who have suffered from my shortcomings and mistakes, I both apologize and from them beg forgiveness" (12-14-02 CNN). (e, c)

"Fighting for his political life, Republican Senate leader Trent Lott offered a public mea culpa for comments that appeared to endorse segregation: 'I apologize for opening old wounds and hurting many Americans who feel so deeply in this area.' ... He asked people to 'find it in their heart' to forgive him" (12-14-02 CNN). (e, c)

In these news items, the speakers use several different formulas interchangeably, occasionally employing more than one for the sake of strengthening their statement (and perhaps in order to drive home its sincerity; see Moore, 2001 on such uses of tautologies). (4)

In spite of their highly varied sources, all of these expressions seem to convey the speaker's acknowledgment of some wrongdoing, coupled with a request to extenuate blame. And yet avowals of apology may greatly differ from one another with respect to the degree of regret involved. We have arranged the following in descending order on this "scale of compunction." (5, 6) We must keep in mind that recipients have no valid information about senders' intentions. Specifically, they do not know whether senders freely choose to apologize or feel coerced to do so, act out of sincerity or hypocritically distort their apologetic statements. This scale has no objective basis; furthermore, nuances of intonation and other aspects of non-verbal communication will affect it.

Seven Types of Apology

1. I'm sorry for having stepped on your toe.

I know I've hurt you. Believe me that I didn't intend to. …

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