Posted in Life

I’m Sorry

Homonyms are words that have the same spelling but different meanings. “I’m sorry” is what I dub a homonym phrase because there are, based on my observations of the world, four major ways this phrase is used.

  1. The repentant sorry in which the speaker realizes she has done something to hurt someone, intentionally or not, and truly wishes to change her actions in the future. These are rare. These are also the kind of sorry that God wants to hear from us.
  2. The empathetic/sympathetic sorry in which the speaker knows that the listener has experienced a heartache. Whether the speaker can relate to the situation or not, she wants to show empathy. These are not to be belittled, but if not used carefully, they can become trite.
  3. The empty sorry. This sorry could be intended for either of the other categories but lands in this third category due to a lack of sincerity. This is best represented by the child whose mother or father has commanded the child to say “I’m sorry” to another child or adult whom this child has offended or hurt. Adults do this as well to placate one another or make themselves feel better. This is the most common “I’m sorry” and most often is expressed by “sorry” (probably to avoid personally feeling the words).
  4. The insecure “I’m sorry” in which the speaker has a vague feeling that they’ve upset someone and wants to smooth things over. This may come from a selfish desire to be liked or it could be an insecurity within the speaker. While the intention is closer to the repentant sorry, the words are often used so often it becomes an empty sorry in the ear of the listener. The speaker could improve the sorry by following with a specific reason for apologizing.

I do not write this to cause you to start questioning the motives of others when they apologize to you because it’s generally a good practice to assume the best intentions of others. Instead, pay attention to the way you use these potentially powerful words. Aim for the first or second category. Be genuine.


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