What do you mean when you say, “I’m sorry”?

I notice Americans (Southerners?) seem to mean primarily “I take responsibility for, and regret, this thing I did” and sometimes, secondarily, “i commiserate with how shitty the universe is being right now” (as in, “I’m sorry for your loss”).

Canadians however also use “I’m sorry” to mean “you should apologize for bumping into me,” “you’re in my way,” “I’m trying to prompt you to apologize since it looks like you’re not going to think of it on your own,” “watch where you’re going,” and “I’m not sure what just happened so I’m apologizing for not paying attention in case I did something I shouldn’t have.” Probably other meanings I’m not thinking of. It’s an extremely useful phrase.

It confuses the Americans when I reflexively use it in any of the latter meanings. They’re forever telling me things aren’t my fault that I wasn’t trying to take responsibility for. I have a wholly unearned reputation for niceness as a result. I’m alright in terms of being nice, but mostly I’m just exhibiting the learned passive aggressiveness of my people.

Related Posts