Heather's Monthly Articles

We say sorry a lot. Sorry.

June 2016


Even the utilities company does it

What is Justin Trudeau doing?! Last month, the tall dark and handsome Canadian Prime Minister started apologizing for his "man-handling" of lawmakers in parliament and people wondered if he'd ever stop.

Canadians are welcome to do all the elbowing they want in ice hockey, but saying "sorry" multiple times is predominately a British "thing". In fact, according to a survey earlier this year, the average British person uses the word "sorry" about eight times a day, with one in eight Brits apologizing up to 20 times a day. What? You didn't see the survey? Oh, I'm sorry.

See, that's a perfect example of what us Brits do; say sorry for something of which we are not culpable.

Another poll I'm sorry you probably didn't happen upon found that “there would be 15 British 'sorries' for every 10 American ones”. That particular poll was conducted by YouGov.UK. Sorry if you're not familiar with YouGov.UK. Neither am I, but I'll apologize just the same.

The origins of the word "sorry" can be traced to the Old English "sarig", which means “distressed, grieved or full of sorrow”. All commendably contrite emotions, except the majority of times when Brits use the word it's not at all how we are feeling.

Most of the time when the British apologize it's an automatic reflex. We'll say “I'm sorry”, for instance, when asking for directions, or when requesting someone repeat what they have said. If someone is taking up two seats on a full bus and we need to sit down, a more heartfelt apology will be needed and we'll add the word “terribly”, as in “I'm terribly sorry".

If someone bumps into us, treads on our toes, or spills tea all over our best frock, we'll be the first to say sorry. It's an ingrained response. A verbal tic if you will. If the person doing the bumping, treading or spilling though also happens to be British, just hope you don't have a bus to catch. The word "sorry" will be volleyed back and forth endlessly with neither party willing to bow out first.

Elton John may have had a hit record with the song – "Sorry seems to be the hardest word", but he obviously hadn't seen the statistic that Brits will utter the word 1.9 million times in their lifetime. Sorry Elton.

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