1. “My Bad”
If Generation Y were one of the great houses on Game of Thrones, “My Bad” would be their house words. I hear it almost every day, and I long ago stopped counting it as a genuine apology, for several reasons.
Chief among them is the fact that, from a grammatical perspective, “My bad” literally doesn’t mean anything. It’s just two useless syllables that get vomited aimlessly when a person can’t so much as spare a single moment to accept responsibility for their actions.
2. “Mistakes Were Made”
This is a staple in any politician’s phrasebook. Presidents and congressmen alike enjoy breaking out this phrase when they’re trying to sweep their latest scandal under the rug without actually admitting that the mistakes made were their own.
The convenient thing about government, I suppose, is that there are so many moving parts that when one of them fails, it’s only too easy to pass the blame onto someone else. I appreciate that politicians are human too and balk at accepting blame when things go wrong, but embracing that essential human quality is important. I’d much rather watch a press conference where an elected official has the nerve and strength of character to stand in front of the world and admit they were wrong. The alternative, invariably, is unmistakable and insufferable arrogance.
3. “I’m Sorry You Feel That Way”
This is a classic, isn’t it? It’s another apology that’s no apology at all. Even worse, it’s a perfectly transparent attempt to not only shrug off the blame, but throw it back in the face of the person you’re apologizing to.
An only slightly better compromise might be something like, “I know how you feel.” It suggests that you have some measure of self-awareness; that you’re aware enough of the consequences of your actions to recognize the hurt you’ve caused someone else, a hurt you’re familiar with. To apologize for the person you’re apologizing to – by suggesting that their feelings are invalid – is a terrible thing to do, no matter how minor your offense.
4. “I Bought You These”
I’m of two minds on this. To begin with, I don’t like the fact that men have been conditioned to purchase flowers, or perhaps chocolates, in the hopes of smoothing things over with their significant other. On the other hand, I kind of resent the fact that, by and large, women don’t seem willing to reciprocate. If anyone’s taking notes, I enjoy dark chocolate and tulips.
The thing is, buying something to express regret is about as useless as simply throwing your wallet in their face. Yes, you have money – so what? It’s not a suitable replacement for verbal contrition, and an unnecessary addition to it if what’s coming out of your mouth is genuine remorse.
I suppose if you really wanted something tangible, some earthly record of your having apologized, you could consider making something. Maybe you’re an accomplished woodworker or a painter. Making something with your hands really is a terrific gesture and a great way to express not only your contrition, but a symbolic commitment to doing better in the future.
5. “I’m Sorry, but…”
I don’t think there’s any combination of words that I really want to hear if they come after the phrase “I’m sorry, but…” Whether it’s “I’m sorry, but all religions are fairy tales” or “I’m sorry, but I think gays aren’t entitled to basic human freedoms,” it’s not an apology at all. Frankly, I don’t know what it is.
To preface some terribly ugly sentence with the words “I’m sorry” isn’t just careless, it actually borders on sociopathy. You’re not sorry. In fact, you probably don’t know what the words “I’m sorry” actually mean if you toss them around so carelessly, hoping that their presence will distract from the rest of what you’re saying. Even worse: it’s just one more way these two words have been devalued to the point where they now mean nothing at all.