#3. "Sorry" Used as Punctuation
Public personalities are usually smart enough (or well-managed enough) not to carelessly throw "apology" words around as meaningless punctuation, but it's something you commonly see among regular folks, especially during a rant. "OK, I'm sorry, but your YouTube video was a piece of shit. Apologies to everyone I've offended by using the word 'shit,' but sometimes you have to call a shit sandwich a shit sandwich, pardon my French."
OK, enough about Burger King.
It's really easy to throw in three apologies that you don't even mean to be taken as apologies. Some people just spasm them in like "you know" or "um" or "like." It's not really deceptive, but it's annoying, because apology words are becoming so meaningless already due to liars and sneaky people. Careless people tossing "sorry" and "apologies" around like word poop aren't really helping.
Sometimes it's just a reflex, like this one Letters-to-the-Editor writer reacting to someone upset at his last letter. He says, "My sincerest apologies," because I guess that's what he automatically says when someone gets mad at him, like kicking when the doctor hits your kneecap. Then he rips the guy apart and insists he was totally right. I don't know if he should be sorry or not (I don't know what their boring argument is about), but he sure isn't. I think he just blurted out "apologies" like a cough.
And this guy is definitely not sorry at all:
"I'm sorry if this offends anyone" has sort of turned into a slang phrase that really means, "All right, sheeple, get ready for the edgy truth I'm about to lay down!" Unlike the politicians and weaselly types, they don't even intend to deceive you; this is just a new slang use of language, like when people decided to use "bad" to mean "good" or "sick" to mean "awesome." Unfortunately, not everyone has gotten the memo on the cool kids' slang these days, so quite often anyone using this kind of language just comes across as a very stupid person trying to trick you.
#2. Pre-Emptive Apologies
And it's fair to be confused, because some people out there actually are very stupid people trying to trick you. Take this Rhodes scholar:
The Aryan Brotherhood bit had me wondering if this was a troll, but apparently this poster has made over 200 posts on that anime forum, mostly not about hating Asians. In any case, you've probably seen or heard people sincerely say they're sorry if anyone is offended, then spew the most insane, spite-filled, eyebrow-raising racist/sexist/anti-religion rant you've ever heard, and then bookend it with another assurance that they're really sorry and don't want to offend anyone. And they really expect immunity with those words, like this is a playground and they just touched base or called "no backsies."
Whether that poster is for real or not, the more depressing thing is that this continues to work on some people, as you can see in a response defending that poster:
"Hey, he said TWICE he didn't want to offend anyone, so we're not allowed to be offended no matter how much he talks about Asians needing a good beating to learn their place."
People apologize ahead of time not only for what they're going to say, but also for what they're going to do. One Farmington school board member got caught emailing on his phone during school board meetings and apologized by saying, "It's going to happen and I'm sorry if it bothers you." He is just going to keep emailing while they are talking about whatever they are talking about, but he said he was sorry first, so I'm sure they will have to get off his back.
#1. Apologizing for a Completely Different Thing
Another great tactic that works when people are tired of vague apologies is to apologize in detail and take full responsibility -- for something completely different.
"I'm sorry for not doing my homework. I'll go do it right now!"
USC football coach Lane Kiffin got in hot water for publicly criticizing referees, and finally apologized -- for being too nice to reporters. "I am sorry that all this happened, and I've learned from this. I've learned that regardless of questions I can't answer any questions that have to do with calls from any games or any conversation that ... an official has with me. From here on out, I won't be able to respond to any of that."
He created a nice little story where it sounded like reporters had asked him about something (the referees' judgment) that he wasn't allowed to talk about, and because he is such a nice, naive guy who doesn't know any better, he talked about it to help out the reporters. His fault was being too nice and trusting the reporters too much. Actually, he was the first person to bring it up, ranting about the referees' terrible call right after the game, unprompted, until a school spokesperson told him to move on.
I know it probably comes as a surprise, but Lane Kiffin ends up having to apologize a lot. Google it.
Another common theme is when someone caught in wrongdoing apologizes for being a "distraction" to their team or company, and not for raping the person or stealing the money or whatever. After it came up that Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson falsely claimed to have a degree in computer science, he apologized -- not for claiming the nonexistent degree, but for "how the issue has affected the company," and how it's not helping the company "move forward."
Or look at Enron's Jeffrey Skilling, apologizing for some serious corporate malfeasance that destroyed thousands of people's retirements: "I am devastated by and apologetic about what Enron has come to represent." Not that Enron has done any bad deeds, but that people, for some inexplicable reason, now think of bad things when they happen to think of Enron, and of course Skilling goes on to say he never did anything wrong. I hope it makes you feel better to know that he was convicted of 19 counts of securities fraud and other charges.
Awww, poor baby.
Meanwhile, Tigers outfielder Delmon Young got arrested for a drunken fight where he was yelling anti-Semitic slurs, and got hauled out for the requisite apologies. He apologized to his teammates, the team owners, the entire Detroit Tigers organization, his family and Tigers fans. Conspicuously missing were the people he called "fucking Jews" and/or tried to beat up.
So he wasn't sorry for tackling a guy while shouting ethnic slurs, just sorry that it ended up embarrassing his team. Priorities, right?
So I'm sorry if any of those hit too close to home, I mean, what can I say, I SPEAK THE TRUTH and I'm sorry if it makes some of you uncomfortable. No, I'm just kidding. I'm sorry about the cutesy twist ending, though.
For more from Christina, check out 5 Reasons Why Anticonformity Is Worse Than Conformity and 5 Topics Guaranteed to Elicit (Condescending) Advice.