APOLOGIES.

Sashura sent me a link to today’s program, on apologies, of Michael Rosen‘s Word of Mouth. It’s all worth hearing, but the segment of most LH interest is the first (9 minutes), a talk with linguist Eva Ogiermann, whose thesis was on British, Polish and Russian apologies, all of which she discusses knowledgeably. After her come Mark Stephens, a lawyer talking about apologies in court and the media; Will Riley and Peter Wolf (Will broke into Peter’s house) discussing “restorative justice”; and the founder of apologycenter.com.
Sashura says that after that came another program on Russian literature; I hope he’ll post the link when it’s available online.

Comments

  1. They touch on it a little in the program, but what exactly are the differences between izvinite and prostite? And the etymologies? Izvinit’ seems pretty transparent: vina (sin/crime/error) with iz and a verbalizing suffix, but what about prostit’?

  2. Just to drive a stake into the ground early:
    A proper apology follows the Sacrament of Penance: it requires confession (“I did wrong”), contrition (“I’m sorry that I did wrong”), and promise of amendment (“I won’t do wrong any more”). Without those, it’s just a non-apology and Does Not Count; however, some of them may be implicit in tone of voice or context.
    In the Sacrament, of course, God always forgives you by granting absolution, but may impose (through human agents) either or both of restitution, which attempts to undo the material consequences, and penance proper, which attempts to remove your character defect through the performance of certain remedial actions. Human targets of apologies aren’t so universally forgiving, but it’s odd — very few domesticated primates seem able to resist extending forgiveness to a true apology as defined above, whereas non-apologies are more likely to provoke resentment and disgust in both parties.

  3. John Emerson says:

    “I’m sorry you were offended by what you thought I did.”
    American apology.

  4. That’s odd. I, an American, would say “I’m not sorry you were offended by what you thought I did. You should have thought twice. Each person is responsible for his own interpretations.”

  5. John Emerson says:

    My apology is used in situations where an apology is expected by someone who does not want to apologize. Politicians are masters of it.
    I use your sort of defiant response frequently, which partially accounts for my lowly place in the world. And perhaps yours, supposing that your situation is lowly.

  6. Ryan,
    but what about prostit’
    prostъ = simple, clean, pure. So “acquite, relieve, release, absolve, free of…”

  7. Ryan, prostit’ is ultimately from prostoy “simple, direct”, though the connection isn’t felt in the modern language. Perhaps “to make right” works as an analogy.
    I struggle to define the differences between izvinite and prostite precisely. Both are frequently used politely when no apology is meant or implied, directly analogous to “excuse me”. I think they’re pretty much synonymous in those uses.
    When used to really apologize, I would say that izvinite is more often related to a specific instance of improper behaviour one is apologizing for, while prostite more often implies a deep personal failing. Izvinite stays closer to the norms of polite discourse, while prostite is more appropriate for a heartfelt plea. In fact, when used outside of a trivializing context, “prostite” is better thought of as begging forgiveness than as apologizing.

  8. Electric Dragon says:

    The programme on Russian literature, I’m guessing, is this week’s A Good Read: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00rdzv6 (the full Radio 4 schedule can be seen here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/programmes/schedules/fm )

  9. John Emerson says:

    I’ve read that the British will use “sorry” where most Americans will say “excuse me” — i.e. in neutral situations where blame is not in question at all. I follow the suppose British practice sometimes.

  10. mollymooly says:

    Terry Eagleton: ‘The lower class says “ay?”, the lower middle class says “pardon?”, the middle class say “sorry?”, and the upper class say “what?”‘
    Posted by mollymooly at February 12, 2009 05:15 PM

  11. I heard myself say “sorry” when I more or less tripped over a student in class today: the lout was slouching in the front row and extending his legs way into my pacing lecturing zone. But then I would probably have said the same thing if I had run into the wastebasket.

  12. I use your sort of defiant response frequently, which partially accounts for my lowly place in the world. And perhaps yours, supposing that your situation is lowly.
    Just so. Hunkered down in the grass roots, shouting defiance at the eagle’s flight.

  13. bruessel says:

    “Terry Eagleton: ‘The lower class says “ay?”, the lower middle class says “pardon?”, the middle class say “sorry?”, and the upper class say “what?”‘
    Yes, but that’s a different situation, that’s when you didn’t hear what people were saying and want them to repeat it.

  14. mollymooly, I think that’s your cue to apologize.

  15. Zythophile says:

    Eagleton is wrong: now, anyway. The chant at football (soccer) matches when one set of supporters wishes to aver that the other team’s supporters are singing too quietly to be heard properly is: “Yer wot? Yer wot? Yerwot-yerwot-yerwot?”

  16. Americans will say “excuse me” — i.e. in neutral situations where blame is not in question
    Then that must be different from my daughter says “HEXCUSE ME??” Okay, my blame is not in question, but I wouldn’t call it a neutral situation.

  17. That’s bad enough, Ork, but “Excuse you??!” is even more hostile.

  18. John Emerson says:

    That’s Steve Martin, I think. It means something like “Excuse me, but did I just hear you say something unbelievably stupid?” I can’t imagine why a teenage girl would ever say something like that to her most excellent father, though.

  19. Yeah, exactly. A very good question. I’ll ask her, and she’ll say “Hexcuse me???”

  20. I heard myself say “sorry” when I more or less tripped over a student
    I suspect Americans have picked this up from the British, who manage to sound smug and British and not at all sorry when they say it. Sort of like we’ve picked up “spot on”. If I could think of a way to use “mind the gap” here, I would certainly use that too. But pacing back and forth in front of the class? I tend to sit/perch on the front edge of the teacher desk, especially when I’m reading or looking for someone to call on.
    In Wobegon, “excuse me” means you’re about to interrupt someone for a valid reason, like asking the time. In Chicago, “excuse me” is the opening line for panhandlers. In Mexican neighborhoods con permiso or just permiso is when you want to interrupt or squeeze by someone, and pardón is after you’ve already done it, maybe tromping on their feet.
    In Amman, assef آسف is “sorry”, like if you have a fight with your BF and want to make up quickly, since talking to a man is verboten and time is of the essence, but just to squeeze past someone on the street or in a shop while letting them know they better not try to grab you because you’re watching them – or just for politeness – it’s afwan عفوا .
    Hexcuse me
    Steve Martin.

  21. No. Steve Martin, that’s “excuuse MEEE!!”
    This is “hexCUSE me???”
    Totally different.

  22. Oh, “hexCUSE me???” means “what’s wrong with you?” or “I disagree, you ignorant clown, what are you trying to pull on me”, unlike “excuse you” which means “you have just inconvenienced me” (by stepping on my toe, etc.)
    But really, that’s soooo 80′s. Now they say “that’s WRONG, that’s just WRONG.” I last heard that said in a dollar store just before Christmas where a patron was examining a toy bird that would make an annoying noise when you choked its throat.

  23. I prefer to think that I came across as not so much smug as endearingly absent-minded.
    I have to pace back and forth in front of the blackboard. It’s the only real exercise I get.
    Teenagers need to scorn their parents to some extent, don’t they? From that point of view it can’t be easy being Crown’s child.

  24. My daughter’s “hexcuse me?” is similar in its ominousness to Robert DeNiro’s “Are you talking to me?”, but I’d say it came along later (late 80′s). A list of things to scorn is readily available, but to pass it around would be WRONG, just WRONG.

  25. I have heard that parents of teenagers get stupid when their offspring turn 14, but if you have only the one, you should be smart again before you know it.

  26. But pacing back and forth in front of the class? I tend to sit/perch on the front edge of the teacher desk, [...]
    Nij, that is your equivalent of what Grumbly calls a Lehrstuhl (Jan. 31, 3:22 PM). I myself prefer to sit on a Leerstuhl, or on (what may be the same thing) nothing at all.

  27. Goodness, I hope not.

Speak Your Mind

*