Too Late to Apologize

By Meg DiMartino

Earlier this week I read an article that the GUWIL Facebook page posted from Marie Claire magazine entitled “I Stopped Saying ‘Sorry’ for a Week”. It was a very interesting article about how women tend to apologize more for things that do not warrant an apology, whereas men very seldom say they’re sorry. It got me thinking, “How often do I apologize unnecessarily?” Then, I realized that when I woke up that morning, I apologized to my alarm clock for aggressively slamming down the snooze button. I realized maybe I should look further into the claim that women excessively apologize for things—and maybe that I should stop. This is a topic that has been discussed from time to time again, such as in previous GUWIL blogs from last year. It is a widely recurring issue that linguists and people of society alike discuss quite often. In fact, Language and Society is a class offered, here at Georgetown, that goes into this phenomena from many perspectives and theories, and it is quite interesting.

I have worked a part time job in retail for nearly five years, and through introspection I have noticed that I apologize there the most. If someone’s credit card is declined or if a customer is in front of me screaming about the return policy, “Sorry” is my go-to phrase. But, why? I’m neither the one who maxed out this person’s credit card, nor am I the person sitting in corporate deciding how many days our return policy should be. I feel like it always eases situations that could otherwise be tense. This taken into consideration, thinking back, I don’t think my male sales associates apologize nearly as much and they definitely don’t care about things that are blatantly not their fault.

So, why did I need to make sure my alarm clock wasn’t hurt before moving on with my extra 8 minutes of sleep? Why are women constantly feeling sorry for things and men are not? Are all men rude? (Re: Next Week’s Blog). There is a ton of literature to work through these questions, as it’s a very popular linguistic characteristic studied by Social Linguists. Within the Marie Claire article the author suggests that perhaps women apologize more frequently because at times they are afraid of rejection and they beat another person to the punch by quickly saying “Sorry!” Even in cases, suggested in the article, which a woman is spilled or stepped on, she often still feels the need to apologize. Perhaps, it’s also in order to cut the awkwardness of a particular situation. It’s like if I don’t know what else to say “sorry” fills the space nicely.

Time article I found explains my use of sorry exactly. It’s a crutch to make demands seem less aggressive. By prefacing bad news, such as a declined credit card, it makes me appear less threatening by saying “I’m Sorry”. On the subject, Robin Lakoff, a linguist at University of California, Berkeley, says, “It [apologizing] lets people –especially women—get away with saying what the other person doesn’t want to hear” (Time Magazine). Laying this out on paper makes me realize how senseless this habit truly is. I am not a tyrant, nor do I demand things like one. But I, and many other women guilty of this, should be more confident in the things we say without needing to preface them with an apology. So, I have decided to stop being sorry, for a week, I will not use this word. I employ you to do the same, we have a voice and it’s an important one. We don’t need a crutch before we say things. If you don’t cut out the word entirely, at least try to do what the author here does and ask “Why” am I apologizing? Moreover, I am cutting out “Sorry” because the more I say it, the less genuine it becomes anyway. Honestly, I am not sorry for slamming my alarm clock. Tomorrow, I might throw it across my room. Sorry, NOT SORRY.