Even when no one’s around, I mumble a sorry when I crash into the furniture. I say sorry when I ask my sister to buy Chick-fil-A on a Sunday. I write sorry as my final answer on my math homework. I say sorry when my friends say to stop apologizing so often. I am a chronic over-apologizer. 

To say sorry insinuates an apology, which is defined as an admission of error or regret. Simply put, when someone does something “wrong,” they would apologize with sorry. But what determines wrong? We all make mistakes. From the meanest to the sweetest person you know, they mess up at one point or another. There’s a wide range of mistakes we make as people because of things like natural forgetfulness or simply messing up because of circumstance. The important distinction is the impact of our errors and whether or not they affect others (like how missing an assignment only really affects me, but failing to complete my part of a group project hurts everyone else’s outcome). 

In group settings, the impact of one’s mistakes can cause arguments, misunderstandings or further complications. And when one realizes they are in the wrong, it is natural to feel guilt. I understand apologies, and, by extension, “sorry,” as a way of expressing feelings of guilt. In that same manner, it should not be easy to say sorry; I don’t believe a lot of people enjoy admitting their mistakes. People still say sorry, however, in hopes of reconciling any issues between themselves and others. It is a fundamental form of communication.  

Yet I say sorry when there’s no need. I blurt out the word as a common courtesy in my texts and emails. I say sorry after my mom helps me find my glasses. I write out sorry on Piazza before asking my question because I am worried it is a dumb one. I admit there are times I say sorry out of politeness or habit, rather than actually meaning it. That’s the worst thing I can do. In saying it so often, and equating all of my mistakes to the same single “sorry,” my apologies become less and less effective. 

Don’t get me wrong, when I say sorry in more serious contexts, I do genuinely mean it and hope that sincerity is clear in my apologies. It is still a valid way for me to acknowledge my mistakes and express my sorrow towards others. The real issue with over-apologizing is how I perceive “sorry” in other contexts. I fail to see sincerity in the apologies I receive because I am used to throwing it around left and right. It has made it difficult for me to accept the significance behind an apology, because I’ll always question if they are an over-apologizer too. I can’t help but wonder if they truly feel sorry and are admitting to their mistakes or are simply saying because it is just “the right thing to say” –– just as I do sometimes.  

This reminds of a few weeks ago when I got a text saying “I am truly sorry” from an old friend. Even though he had apologized and I knew him to use “sorry” sparingly, I was still debating the genuineness of his apology. It might have had to do with how it was a two-year late apology and over text. Or the fact that his next few texts focus on how great of a show “Euphoria” is. It bothered me how it probably took him a second to type out the word “sorry.” His keyboard may have even automated the apology. Altogether, the word “sorry” didn’t feel sufficient enough to me. His apology might have been genuine, but I could not accept it, let alone believe in it. 

But, what exactly could he have said or done to make a more genuine, better apology? There are not that many substitutes for “sorry” in the English language. He could have said “my bad” or “my fault,” but I would not have appreciated those phrases any more than the literal word “sorry” — in fact those other phrases would have made me feel worse. There’s other extra things people can add to their apologies, including adverbs or a full outlining of what they are sorry for, but the key word of an apology is “sorry.” It is the most basic way to summarize deep regret or guilt about one’s actions. 

The real reason I could not see the genuineness of his apology is because I am so accustomed to saying and hearing “sorry” from my own mouth. The weight and beauty of the word is lost through my many misuses. In reality, I should have been able to trust the sincerity of his apology. Sorry says so much on its own, but I can’t recognize its significance because of my own overuse. The result is hurting myself even more because I couldn’t accept his apology, so there’s still unresolved feelings on my end. It’s unfortunate because an apology should, in theory, resolve or at least band-aid any issues. 

Ultimately, being an over-apologizer sucks. Sorry isn’t meant to be thrown around so often. Its misuse not only twists the meaning of the word but also its significance in different situations. The word itself is a fundamentally healthy expression of emotion. By extension, the loss of that word makes it difficult to find other ways to express the admittance of error. When used appropriately, sorry serves as a tool for providing closure or the beginning of the end to any issues existing between parties. 

The simple solution to returning meaning to “sorry” is to save my apologies for the things that truly matter. No more wasting apologies on forgetting my phone in the car when I can easily go back and get it. No more saying “sorry” for rainy weather when it’s out of my control. I want to reserve the word sorry for when I wholeheartedly mean it, but I know it will be a while before I stop blurting sorry casually. After receiving that aforementioned apology, I asked him how I can distinguish a courteous apology from a sincere one. For him, he said that when giving a sincere apology, he adds more syllables and precedes his sorry with an adverb. I laughed in the moment, but I think even just adding that extra bit of effort helps add a bit more weight to the apology. It’s a start to replenishing a fuller meaning to the word “sorry.”

 

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