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The Non-Apology Apology

Miss Manners, the ultimate maven of what is proper in society, had a column today in which she dealt with a phenomenon that I had long been aware of, the "non-apology apology."  This is a statement which appears to be an apology because the word "sorry" is included in it, but on closer examination proves instead to be a new insult.

To give the example in Miss Manners column today, the writer had been treated very rudely by a young woman who responded when confronted with this that she was sorry if her actions "hurt my feelings(quote from column in bold.)"

Now on first glance this appears to be an apology because after all, doesn't the person making the "apology" say that she is sorry?  But on closer examination, it becomes clear that the speaker is actually saying, "I'm sorry that you are such an unreasonable, oversensitive person that my perfectly reasonable actions caused you distress."  Instead of admitting that she had done something wrong and expressing contrition for it, the person making the apology implies instead that there is something wrong with the person who was offended by her actions.

I have been the recipient of a number of such non-apologies in my lifetime.  One major subset of them that is particularly offensive is the apology that goes "I'm sorry you were upset by what I did."  Not made angry or offended or insulted, but "upset."  "Upset" is how you describe the irrational response of a small child to an unpleasant situation, not that of an adult. 

To summarize, an apology is a statement which begins "I'm sorry that I.." and in which the speaker takes responsibility for their actions.  A non-apology is one which begins "I'm sorry that you…" and attempts to deflect the fault in the situation to the addressed party.


Questions, comments,  compliments, objections about the above? The Oldest & Wisest wants to know!  Email him at oldest_wisest@aol.com