Letter from the i editor: I’ll just say "sorry"


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The Independent Online

An article in another newspaper (which you won’t have read of course, because you are loyal i readers) made a passing reference to my possibly being more on the defensive in this spot than my illustrious predecessor Mr Kelner.

There I was thinking I was just being polite, he says, more than a tad defensively. But, given the charge, the fact that you can’t take the Catholic out of the boy, and the text of this column, I’ll just say “sorry”.

What else could I do upon finding out that we “Bashful Brits” say sorry on average up to eight times a day? Worse, apparently, one in eight of us apologises 20 times a day. Sorry? We all the know the type, and some of us may have been there ourselves: a man steps on your innocent foot, you say sorry; a waiter brings you a dish you haven’t ordered, you say sorry; a boor interrupts your conversation, you say sorry.

My neighbour at i, the charming and erudite Louis, is an arch-exponent of the superfluous apology. Notably, he says sorry in advance for virtually all of his contributions to your daily i — those that make the paper (like the idea for this very column today), and those that don’t, usually a “family story on that” which brighten up our many long nights producing i. When we tell him not to apologise, he only apologises again! So, in despair, we will have to resort to plan B: beatings. He’s a Catholic too. If we took Jews and Catholics out of the survey, how many apologists would be left?

The truth is we don’t actually mean sorry in many of the occasions above. Often we just mean “excuse me”. But what we mean more often, is that you should be saying sorry, but the trouble is we hate confrontation, and so we are trying to prompt you subconsciously to go there first yourself. It’s an attempt to soften the blow, as in “sorry, to mention this Stef, but, your column is droning on a bit... ”