Social Question

josie's avatar

When did apologies start beginning with the word "IF"?

Asked by josie (22422 points ) October 20th, 2010

My mother taught me many of the things in life that I, and others, might be expected to apologize for. (She also told me a few things that I should never apologize for, or feel guilty about. That is another question)
My dad taught me that if I had something to apologize for I should have the balls to stand up and do it.
My dad actually taught me how to make an apology. The first thing you say is “I am sorry”, or “I apologize”. Period
In the last few years, I have noticed something when people (often public figures, not always) make an apology.

They say something like “If my actions annoyed you, I am sorry”.

Now that is a statement to be sure. And it even gives one a vague sense of contrition.
However, it is not an apology. It sort of makes it sound like you are part of the problem, even if you are not.

But more and more, it seems to be the norm.
What is this nonsense?
Do people actually believe that they are not capable of committing a transgression that merits apology?
Before we get into this too far-I am not some hyper sensitive guy who is constantly offended, devestated, appalled, etc. In fact, I can only think of a couple occasions in my entire life where I was actually due an apology.
So, where and when did it happen, that people began to think that they were too special to make a real apology?

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21 Answers

janbb's avatar

I agree so much with you on this. I can’t stand it when politicians do it. And it was even worse when the person who had abused me said, “If I hurt you, I’m sorry.” WTF!!

zophu's avatar

That’s almost as bad as “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

KatawaGrey's avatar

I use this “qualified apology” if I’m not certain if I need to apologize. For example, if someone says to me, “you shouldn’t have said such-and-such to so-and-so,” I will go to so-and-so and say something like, “I didn’t think this bothered you. If it did, I do apologize.” Often, so-and-so’s response is, “that didn’t bother me at all.” However, if they are honestly offended, then I apologize in earnest.

@zophu: I disagree with you there simply because there are times when someone has no reason to apologize but another person gets offended anyway. I’m not going to apologize for my personal beliefs, but I am going to display a certain amount of remorse/regret that my personal beliefs offend a friend of mine.

You know what really bugs me? When someone’s having a bad day and I say, “I’m sorry you’re having a bad day,” and they say, “Why are you apologizing? It’s not your fault.”

JilltheTooth's avatar

Ah, the remorseless apology. Too often heard. I hate those. It seems that it’s part of the whole “never take responsibility” that is so prevalent these days. If I don’t know that I’ve offended someone, or why they think I should apologize, I might qualify it, mostly I’ll just ask what was wrong. If no offense was intended, I’ll say that. If I know I’ve screwed up, I apologize without excuses.

Symbeline's avatar

Kinda reminds me of when people say things like, I’m not racist, but…I have nothing against gays, but…yeah. I don’t know when that started specifically, but I attribute it as a…reflection effect. People seem to say things like this when they’re angry or upset at having hurt someone; the most offensive thing about what you explain is that by starting an apology this way, if my theory is correct, is that they know damn well they’ve hurt the person. It’s like they’re trying to make the person feel bad for having being offended.

Within said same light it may also be due the ’‘apologer’’ wanting to look good to his peers by having the balls to step up and apologize, yet use a strategy which may make the other person who was offended look like an ass for overeating, since the offender implies that he or she was not aware of their crime.

It’s bullshit, and I agree with you plenty.

I’ll admit having done this myself, but am certainly not attempting to drag down the entire majority with me about this.

Of course, it may be genuine in many cases, that a person really didn’t know. I’m too much of a cynic and straightforward to really believe otherwise though.

josie's avatar

@KatawaGrey No shit. Even though “I am sorry you are having a bad day” is not an apology, it is certainly a statement of sympathy and support. It deserves better a better response than that.
@Symbeline I suppose most of us have been careless and done it. I am talking about the phenomenon as sort of institutional.

chyna's avatar

I think they are saying they really don’t think they did anything wrong. “If” my dick fell into that woman’s vagina and it bothered you, I’m sorry.

janbb's avatar

@JilltheTooth @KatawaGrey Sounds like mother and daughter are on the same page!

zophu's avatar

@KatawaGrey yeah but even when someone’s truly sympathizing with your truly unjustified grief over something they did, it’s still usually one of the worst things they can say. And it’s too easy of a way to disarm someone for people not to abuse it. It’s usually just another way to state, “I don’t think I did anything wrong. I pity you for being foolish enough to think otherwise.”

JilltheTooth's avatar

@janbb Yeah, we are the Department of Redundancy Department.. ;-)

KatawaGrey's avatar

@zophu: But what if I am genuinely sorry you feel that way? I’m not trying to be snarky but this is something I have thought about before. When I say it, I try to keep the condescension out of my voice because it’s less an apology for their feelings and more an expression of regret that our not seeing eye to eye has caused a rift. Say I’m discussing abortion with a Christian friend and they say that they believe any woman who gets an abortion is going to hell. I might say, “I’m sorry you feel that way,” because it is an issue that could create a rift between us and the rift is caused because of our difference of beliefs. I think when people use the phrase to condescend, then it is a bad apology. However, when it’s used the way I use it, then it is not such a bad thing.

InkyAnn's avatar

@Symbeline i agree with your theory

on another note I cant in good conscience say that everyone should always and only say ” I am sorry” because i wont apologize for something I truly believe I shouldn’t apologize for. yet there have been many times where I was found in a situation where someone thought I had done something or said something that I needed to apologize for and I on the other hand honestly believe that I had nothing to apologize for.so in that case i would say “If bla bla bla, im sorry”. I may feel I dont need to but the other person just as strongly feels I do, so I guess its just like a happy medium, for lack of better words.

roundsquare's avatar

I think it usually means “you really shouldn’t be offended by this but I’m going to say this to make you feel better.”

But it doesn’t necessarily mean that the person doesn’t think they are capable of offending someone, just that this specific thing shouldn’t (in their opinion) be found offensive.

chyna's avatar

@Inked_up_chic If you honestly believe that you have nothing to apologize for, why apologize? It comes off insincere, and you don’t even mean it.

faye's avatar

I don’t think it’s an apology then. But it seems as if there is very little you can say these days that won’t offend somehow! I love going for coffee with a bunch of women all over 50. We are just so not politically correct! And we don’t become offended if someon doesn’t agree with us.

KatawaGrey's avatar

@chyna: I always take that to mean the person is apologizing for my being offended and not for their behavior. Display of remorse versus display of contrition.

InkyAnn's avatar

Because sometimes it’s better to give something rather then nothing. Where as it would up set me if I had to apologize for something I think I didn’t need to, it would upset them if I didnt, so I’ll apologize that I said something that upset them and I sincerely would be sorry I did that, but I won’t apologize for what I said. If that makes sense.

Trillian's avatar

Josie, Josie, Josie. Maybe the statement would scan better like this; “I’m sorry that you are offended by my actions. I have no intention of behaving any differently in the future, but I’m sorry that you have a problem with something that I said or did.” That’s about as much as someone would get from me if I were truly not sorry or felt that I had done nothing wrong.
If I were remorseful or felt that I had acted in error, I would state it a lot differently.
Just once I’d like to see a public figure stand up and say; “Damn right. This is what I said, this is how I felt, and I am not the least bit sorry about it. You don’t like it? Fuck y’all.”

faye's avatar

@Trillian Pierre Trudeau- Canada’s PM, 1970’s

downtide's avatar

To me, that’s what you say when you don’t believe you’ve done anything wrong. I don’t say “I’m sorry” if I don’t believe that it’s justified.

But it’s just as bad to say “I’m sorry” when you don’t believe it. Either way it’s insincere, it doesn’t necessarily make the apology genuine if you take out the ifs and buts.

ucme's avatar

Any apology I give starts with the word sincere! Nuff said :¬)

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