Insights — 22 December 2015

A look at the overuse of the word “sorry” – also known as the s-word.

I remember once standing in a queue in London’s subway when a conductor needed to get through. People stood immovable like pillars of salt and the conductor had to weave his way around them by constantly muttering “Sorry,” – “So sorry,” – “Sorry, please,” – “Sorry, I’m so sorry,” and so on. Yelling loudly “Please let me through!” would have been a much better option. But then, that’s the Brits.

The BBC reported a few years ago that according to a survey of 1,100 people the average Brit will say sorry a staggering 1.9 million times in his or her lifetime. The word sorry is uttered 368 million times per day in the UK. It is also said a lot in many other English speaking countries, such as the USA. And if we were to analyse countries, we might find a similar overuse of the word in other languages as well. I do know that the English version of the s-word has been adopted in Switzerland, that the Italians go through a high number of “scusa” and “scusi” throughout the day, and Indonesians and Malaysians have the word ‘maaf’ that is most liberally used to say the least.

When people say ‘sorry’ to me I tend to wonder “What for?” They didn’t do anything harmful to body or soul; but maybe by throwing in a ‘sorry’ they think that I am easier approachable, or indicate that by no means do they wish to intrude on me, or buffer the fact that they will follow up by asking me to do something for them. And many people say “sorry” for things that aren’t their fault and they aren’t even aware of it.

But more importantly, there’s another more sinister reason for saying the s-word: when people unconsciously apologise for merely existing! And when they do that, you will for sure pick up on it and it will make you feel uncomfortable.

A look into the Etymology Dictionary shows that originally the s-word comes from the Old English sarig ‘distressed, grieved, full of sorrow’. The proto-Germanic word was sairiga ‘painful’, while Swedish sårig meant ‘sore, full of sores’. The s-word definitely had a very heavy meaning at the time! So to use it so often in this day and age seems totally ludicrous!

But here’s another, lighter look at the issue. Yao Xiao is a China-born award-winning illustrator based in New York City. She creates artwork depicting a poetic visual world where complex concepts and human emotions are examined, amplified, and given physical form. In this Baopu comic below she shows that there’s no reason to ever apologise for one’s existence. See how much more fitting the phrase “Thank you” is when you communicate in a conscious and straight way.

BAOPU-15-a

BAOPU-15-b

BAOPU-15-c

BAOPU-15-d

Of course when a person does something nasty to another that begs for forgiveness it is an altogether different matter. You obviously apologise when you’re in the wrong, or for example have been screaming at someone for no reason or did something equally unaware and thoughtless.

So the next time “sorry” is about to form on the way through your larynx, take a nanosecond to rephrase…

By Bhagawati

yaoxiaoart.com

Related article
Apologise, Yes! Explain, No! – Kaiyum examines our ways with apologising, for changing a scheduled appointment or a delay

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