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Miss Manners by Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin

Why Can’t We Just Say ‘I’m Sorry’?

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Some friends and I have noticed an uptick in people “correcting” us when we say “I’m sorry.”

It can be as simple as my saying, “I’m sorry you’re having a bad day” (“Why are you sorry? You didn’t cause it”), to apologizing for being late (“No ‘sorry’ needed”), to expressing condolences over the death of a spouse (“Don’t be sorry; she’s in a better place”).

I feel discounted and dismissed, not to mention somewhat appalled that I would be admonished in public. Why don’t people just say “Thank you” and leave it at that? What gives, and is there anything I can say?!

GENTLE READER: The apology has indeed been much maligned by every means -- from considering it an admission of wrongdoing to being cited as the reason women do not receive promotions at work.

But like you, Miss Manners finds it a symbol of polite society, not yet another courtesy to be viciously picked apart for its literal interpretation. Even qualifying it with why one is sorry -- as in, “I am so sorry for your loss” -- can, as you say, be found to have fault.

“I meant I am sorry for you,” said weakly and with a sigh, seems to be about the best that can be mustered -- until we learn as a society to accept compassion graciously.