Why the Brits Say Sorry so Often

“The readiness of the English to apologize for something they haven’t done is remarkable, and it is matched by an unwillingness to apologize for what they have done,”

wrote Henry Hitchings in his aptly-titled Sorry!: The English and their Manners. (Source)

I try to solve the conundrum sociologically.

Saying “Sorry” is not exactly apologizing. Linguistically it is related to sorrow. Though it can be interpreted as an apology, it is rather a humble gesture, a signal of submissiveness. Such signals are common in all cultures but expressed differently. As a society becomes more multicultural it becomes necessary that it switches from adverbial communication—which is difficult to translate between cultures—to verbal communication for which linguists build excellent dictionaries. As England is multicultural for many centuries, submissive gestures are more more often expressed verbally than say in the heartland of a homogeneous culture.

Such a submissive attitude is thought to be the prerequisite for people living in close proximity to avoid constant quarrels. I have my doubts though. Therefore I use the word “Sorry” only in an ironic sense when it is obvious that I’m not sorry at all. In all the other instances “Thank You” works best with me, sometimes more as a joke as jokes also help to diminish aggression. By the way, did you ever hear the queen saying “Sorry”? Submissiveness is for slaves only.

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