I love “Precision language” – using the very best words in the very best order. Ensuring the message you want to deliver “lands” in the way you intend and want it to. So, naturally I get a tad perturbed when I hear people using language that isn’t “precise”.
And there is one violation of “precision language” that makes me outwardly cringe.
Yes. Sound the alarm. Look startled. Run around waving your arms in the air (okay – too much melodrama maybe?……) We are in the throes of an epidemic everyone – an epidemic of apologisers who start their sentences off with the words “I’m sorry but…..”.
Please own up to it if you’re infected with this violation of language and you’re now asking “’im sorry but what’s the problem with that?”.
The problem is this. The phrase “I’m sorry but” normally precedes you putting your opinion or viewpoint forward in situations where you don’t have to be sorry – you have nothing to be sorry for! And when you say “I’m sorry” you’ve put yourself on “the back foot” as the one that has done something wrong or needs to apologise – when in fact you have nothing to apologise for! It puts you at a disadvantage by demeaning yourself and diluting your message………..
Take this as an example – a situation I observed just yesterday morning as I commuted in to London.
My local train station ticket office was closed and both ticket machines were “out of order” so, along with tens of other passengers heading in to London we all boarded the train ticketless with the intention of buying a ticket either during ticket inspection on the journey (which, of course, didn’t happen) or when we arrived into Kings Cross.
Upon arrival in London, I joined a rather sorry excuse for a “queue” of epic proportions that formed around the mobile ticket inspectors. Commuters crowded together to buy tickets to exit the barriers and, in true British fashion, even without an orderly queue everyone “clocked” who was next in line and we all “waited our turn” – apart from, that is, Mr Pinstripe (no offence to Savile Row suit-wearers but I have to give this old gentleman a name).
Mr Pinstripe, obviously deciding he did not favour queues and was obviously already running late as he glanced at his watch and “huffed” loudly, strode brazenly to the front and began to request his ticket from the inspector. To which “Miss Boden” (again, no offence to Boden clothes wearers but again I have to give this lady a name) frowned at him and said
“I’m sorry but there is a queue here…….”
A lull came over our commuter huddle and all eyes were upon Mr Pinstripe to see his reaction. Too late as the ticket inspector was already printing Mr Pinstripe’s ticket and he made a hasty retreat from the dagger-glowers around him.
Good on you Miss Boden for speaking up – round of applause to you. Bad on you Miss Boden for starting your sentence with “I’m sorry but…..”. You have nothing to be sorry for Miss Boden. Mr Pinstripe was in the wrong. Don’t be sorry. Replace your “I’m sorry but” with ‘Excuse me” or better still you could have said
“I can see you’re in a rush but there is actually a queue here……”
You’ve started your sentence appreciating Mr Pinstripe’s position (“I can see you’re in a rush”). Mr Pinstripe will feel pretty chuffed that you’re empathising with him. You’ve “got him on your side” for all of a split second before letting him know “there is actually a queue here….”
Don’t be sorry when you don’t need to be. There really is no need to apologise in situations like these.
Not all Mr Pinstripe’s will push to the front of the queue.
Not all Miss Boden’s start their sentences off with “I’m sorry but….”.