Many people who write personal blogs – I’m not talking about professional bloggers, opinion formers, and shapers of the social media landscape here – are very quick to describe their own content as “rants”. I’ve been extremely reluctant over the last few years to do this, and in fact if you were to search my site archive for that word you’d find it seldom appears. That’s using Google, of course: for some reason if you use the built-in site search you get every instance of that 4 letter combination, including words like “grant”, “tarantula”, “frantic”, “restaurant”, “accelerant”, etc.
So, it’s a well-known fact that I’ve got a bit of an issue with the overuse of the word “sorry” here in my adopted home country*. The problem being that people use it as the default word following any sort of unexpected human interaction whatsoever, even when it doesn’t call for apology. If you had access to London’s CCTV archives there would be thousands of pictures of my dumbstruck face after someone had inexplicably said “sorry” to me. There’s all the times that people attract your attention before barging past you in a crowded environment, where the word’s used less as an apology and more of a warning. Then there’s downright odd stuff like when you’re in a lift and the lift stops at an interceding floor in your journey: people have apologised to me for getting into my lift?!
My hypothesis was that “sorry” would get used to such an extent that it would be devalued as a term of apology. In the same way that swearing on telly has become such a mainstream act that nobody seems to bat an eyelid if you say “damn”, “hell”, “bloody”, “bollocks”, etc. and if you want to make any real shock impact have to resort to – I believe the vernacular is – “F-Bombs” and “C-Bombs”, so too it seems that with the constant torrent of “sorry” going on, now you’ve got to use modifiers to impress upon someone when you’re actually sorry about something.
Previously on this very site, as you my beloved readership will doubtless recall, I pined for the days before society adopted the word “deeply”. You’ve got to admit, it’s a good one – it certainly brings the “sorry” back from the brink of flippancy. Deeply sorry. Personally it makes me think of a certain tune by shiny-domed brethren Right Said Fred. Every time.
But what’s sparked off this particular post – and I meant it as a rant, with all the connotation of a furious idiot standing on a cliff’s edge waving his arms around and screaming into the darkness, fully convinced that though everyone’s out there it’s more than likely nobody’s listening – was this morning’s story from The Age (in the Technology section, no less!) about the Most Important Story in Britain at the moment, “cat bin lady”, and the news that:
Woman caught dumping cat in bin ‘profoundly sorry’
Doubtless you’ll know about this story – it’s attracted the attention of nearly every news source in this country and clearly there’s little enough going on in Australia that they’ve caught on too. Now, ultimately I don’t care in the slightest bit about this “story” (such as it is – as The Onion have no doubt already demonstrated, a good 80% of headlines could be summed up with “Person does dumb thing”), however there’s a new card on the table here – does a “profoundly” outrank a “deeply”? And where next? And what does this mean for international relations, where adjectives may hold a different sense of gravitas or meaning? Are we going to end up in international diplomacy conversations as outlined in Dr Strangelove (3min 27sec in, in case it tries to play the whole thing)?
I know I go on about this at tedious length, but it concerns me – this cheapening of language by inappropriate overuse. The natural progression, as I see it, is that society will arrive at a point where in order to demonstrate a genuine sense of apology, it’ll involve a John Cleese-style construction, which whilst amusing from a distance, will need to be fully-formed and inclusive such that any and all parties involve feel that every aspect of their grief and outrage has been addressed comprehensively by the apologetic party.
What’s my beef with that? It’s yet another vector for social linguistic change into using far too many words to illustrate a simple idea**. Along with “inclusive language”, it’ll render the English Language utterly inadequate for the transfer of ideas: modern communications technology allows us to send information around the world faster than ever before, and yet still that’s not enough – as a society we’ve adopted widespread use of acronyms and contractions (viz. “text speak”) in order to convey the message even faster! Armed with such tools, we use more words to say even less than ever before!
And if you don’t believe that, consider that if – as we all know, and therefore must be scientifically true – a picture is worth a thousand words, then one second of video footage is worth 24,000 words. And so instead of saying anything worthwhile, we’re hellbent on communicating shit like this:
In summary, people should apologise less when they don’t mean it.
Turns out it was a “sorry” rant, after all.
There is a happy ending though – in the process of sorting through old posts to see whether I’d already visited and exhausted this topic, I stumbled on a rather excellent story about the time I dreamt about Australian Senator Natasha Stott-Despoja. So there truly is something for everyone in this post.
Bye for now, kids!
* It has been pointed out that I’m not the first Australian who appears to have massive issues with the word “sorry”. I like to contend that my reasoning’s both utterly different, and completely frivilous.
** Yes, I get the irony of decrying verbosity whilst 700+ words into a seemingly endless blogpost