Thursday, January 29, 2009

Too Sorry

Call me out on this if you want, but I'd say that I'm a pretty polite person. After all, I am Canadian. In my travels abroad and through conversations with friends from outside our lovely little bubble, I've found that there's a real sense that Canadians are generally some of the most kind, polite and courteous people around.

I take great pride in my Canadian heritage and feel as though we're stewards of a dwindling kindness towards others, but I do have some beef with how one aspect of our polite demeanor has been taken to an extreme. The word 'sorry' is a special word in my books. Typically reserved for occasions when real sincerity is needed, I feel as though its use has become increasingly commonplace in our society to the point where it almost saturates our daily language; especially with strangers.

Picture your office, the subway, a restaurant; anywhere where people pass each other in close quarters and are forced to exchange some sort of pleasant comment. Too often I've found that this remark is "oh, uhh, sorry", "ummm hey, haha, sorry, if I can just get... haha sorry". What the heck is that?!? What ever happened to excuse me?

I'll admit without hesitation that for a time I was one of these awkward passers by, just trying to say SOMEthing that would make the strange encounter less so, but over time I became aware that I was saying sorry like it was my job, and decided that it was time for me to revert back to what I think is the appropriate response to such an encounter. Now, when I have to squeeze pass someone in a hallway or push my way to the bar in a pub, I offer up an "excuse me".

My gears are being ground for a couple of reasons that I should make clear. For one, I'm a huge fan of our wonderful language, and I try my best to find the right word to express the way that I'm feeling. This may surprise you given the verbosity of some of my earlier posts, but literary masturbation aside, I think the English language is one that offers so many options for expression that it's doing the dictionary a bit of a disservice to synonymize sorry with other excusatory remarks in such a casual setting.

I feel as though sorry should be saved for those times when you break a best friend's favourite dish, or when you step on your dog's tail by accident, or when you give someone the finger when you think it's that bully from back in the day, but it really turns out to be a complete stranger. Sorry should mean something, sorry should actually say to someone, 'I'm sorry!', I didn't intend to cause harm or inconvenience, but I have; and now I'd like to tell you that I've got a bit of regret for it. You're not actually sorry that you had to pass someone in the hall and you may have touched their shirt, and you're not sorry you had to push the big lug out of the way to get to the bar so you could order a drink, so why say it?

Canadians are so polite, so proper, and want nothing more than to go through life with everyone loving them and thinking the world of their intentions; but we can't go around throwing meaningful words around like they're bras in Cancun.

How do you feel about it? Do we say sorry too much? What are some other examples of its improper use? Maybe you just think I'm blowing smoke and I should just keep on apologizing for things I'm not sorry I did, but lets hear your view.
Do you know of any other words that people use at improper times?

Stand up for English and sound off!