Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Wed Mar 14 15:19:38 UTC 2007

IIRC, "Mistakes were made" was once associated with Soviet descriptions of the Stalin era.


Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU> wrote:
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Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: Benjamin Zimmer
Subject: Re: bureaucratese

On 3/14/07, Benjamin Barrett wrote:
> sagehen wrote:
> > "I acknowledge that mistakes were made here. I accept responsiblity....."
> > AG Gonzales while displaying his facility with the grammar of
> > establishmentspeak, wherein the word "mistake" always calls for passive
> > construction, showed nimbleness in employing the forthrightness that has
> > become fashionable among politicians lately, by switching to active in the
> > next breath. In the recent election someone caught in a scandal did this
> > in reverse order. "Yes, I did it." Then immediately lost the points gained
> > by laying the blame on some sort of addiction & haring off to rehab.
> > More bread & circuses.
> Isn't this true of American speech in general? The pattern I see is that
> a person will say they are sorry for something (like being late) and
> then proffer an excuse (there was a lot of traffic). A switch of voice
> is not needed, but it seems like the same pattern of claiming to be
> contrite without actually being responsible. BB

Today's New York Times has a piece on the popularity of "mistakes were
made" (non-)apologies in Washington:

The nonconfessions inspired William Schneider, a political guru here,
to note a few years ago that Washington had contributed a new tense to
the language. "This usage," he said, "should be referred to as the
past exonerative."

--Ben Zimmer

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