When I hear that word, I start channelling my inner-Shakespeare: ‘…I hate the word, as I hate hell, all [insert whatever you hate most in the world], and thee.’ (Tybalt, Act 1 Scene 1, Romeo and Juliet)
Now I hear your question: ‘What’s wrong with the word “sorry”? Isn’t that what we all want to hear from others?’ Yes, there’s nothing as satisfying as an apology that is owed to you, but picture this scenario: I’m starting to take in exam papers at the end of the session. Before taking in, I remind learners that as long as they are still in possession of a paper, no talking is allowed, any talking will be treated as cheating. The learners leave the exam room row by row, handing in their papers as they exit. Two boys start talking and looking at each other’s papers while they walk to the front. I immediately separate them from the rest and ask them why they are talking to each other. The one answers me: ‘I’m sorry, sir.’
I see red immediately in this situation. First off, ‘I’m sorry’ is not an answer to my question. I asked a question demanding an explanation, and all I’m getting is an apology, as if they wronged me, somehow. Secondly, it is a complete abuse of the word. The word ‘sorry’ implies regret, and along with that a commitment to not repeat the behaviour, or to at least try. The kids at my school uses the word as a fix-all whenever they mess up. It’s a blatant attempt to manipulate me. You can’t be angry at someone who apologises, can you? But the entire situation makes it clear they do not feel regret and they’ll most definitely break the rule again, the moment I’m not looking.
I’m sorry, but ‘sorry’ has become a cliché as meaningless as ‘thinking outside the box’, ‘it will make you stronger’, and ‘giving 110%’. People use it as a cop-out, a way to defuse conflict. In the process they have made one of the most powerful words in the English language devoid of substance.
So, a request: please don’t say ‘I’m sorry’ unless you truly mean it. I beg of you.