Thursday, December 15, 2011

Please Accept My Apology

On Monday morning, the eldest young Master Boyce woke up ill.

"I'm sorry you're not feeling well," I said as I tucked him back into bed.

Then the second one chimed in, his eyes gleaming with envy. "My stomach hurts, too!"

"I'm sorry to hear that," I murmured, shooing him along to breakfast.

He ate and got ready for school, all the while angling for a day off like his brother was getting. "I'm serious, my stomach hurts," he insisted. "I ate too much last night."

"I'm sorry," said I. "You'll feel better soon."

My son rounded on me. "Why do you keep saying that?" he snapped.


"You keep saying you're sorry! Every time we're sick or we get hurt, you say you're sorry."

"Oh," I said, a little taken aback. "I'm... sorry."

He threw his hands up in frustration and stomped off to the bus, his annoyance at me driving away his phantom stomach ache.

* * *

I apologize a lot--or rather, I use the words of apology, when I don't really mean them, at all.

"Dear Fanny: I'm sorry to hear of the loss
of your best kid riding gloves. I'm sorry, too,
that Mr. Watlingworth has not come up to
scratch, as I fully expected him to have done so
by now. I'm sorry to report Lydia is still
behaving like the veriest hoyden. Sorrowfully yrs,
P.S. -- Do write soon!

I'm sorry.

I'm sorry for your loss.

I'm sorry you're sick.

I'm sorry you fought with your husband.

I'm sorry things are hard for you right now.

I'm sorry the restaurant was terrible.

I'm sorry you had a bad day at work.

I'm sorry for saying I'm sorry so much.

I don't mean it. What I mean is, "I feel sorrow on your behalf." "I empathize." "My heart is heavy for you." "I wish you weren't sick." "I acknowledge the injustice of your situation." "This should not have happened to you."

Those are the kinds of things I mean, but I use "I'm sorry" as a lazy shorthand.

Some people are really bothered by this misuse of "I'm sorry," though not as much as the use of a word I won't mention. More than once the reply to my "I'm sorry," has been something along the lines of, "Why? You didn't do it."

I know I didn't do it. That's not what I mean. I think everyone knows that's not what we "I'm sorry"ers mean. We're honestly trying to express sympathy, but some people don't respond well to it when it comes wrapped up as an apology.

So, why don't I just say what I mean? It's a linguistic rut, a thoughtless habit. But I'm going to try to be more conscientious about the words I use next time I feel "I'm sorry" trying to fall off my tongue.

Do you say "I'm sorry" as an expression of sympathy / empathy? Do you find it problematic? Let's discuss it in the comments!


  1. I'm sorry people are often put off by empathetic statements such as "I'm sorry." It says as much about the recipient as it does the deliverer, no? Like not accepting a well-earned compliment.

  2. I'm also sorry that you have to think so hard about what to say so as not to irritate the person you are feeling empathetic for. I'm a chronic I'm Sorryer as well.

  3. I rather like it when someone empathizes and says "I'm sorry" because of my ills or daily stumbles. Watch those babies. You love them dearly, but they can make you second guess whether the sky is blue sometimes. Be you, Mommy. Just be you.


  4. Me! Me! I'm an "I'm sorry"er!

    I'm not sure it's lazy so much as an abbreviated version of, in the stomach ache example, "It's really awful when you're a kid and don't want to go to school and try to get out of it so often that I'm not sure whether to take you seriously or not about sickness. So go on about your routine, and if you are actually not feeling well, have the office call me later. If you actually are sick, it's a real bummer. It is not fun to be sick."

    You're just using your skills for word economy!

  5. I've been thinking about this too! I only realize I'm a chronic I'm sorryer around Chelsea, because she always says "it's not your fault." The funny thing is... I think I may also say "it's not your fault" to other I'm sorryers. :D I think I will make efforts on this front too.