Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed Mar 14 15:44:57 UTC 2007

At 10:19 AM -0400 3/14/07, Benjamin Zimmer wrote:
>On 3/14/07, Benjamin Barrett <gogaku at ix.netcom.com> 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."
Nice, except that I'm sure the practice considerably pre-dates
Washington--by a matter of millennia, back to the dawn of government
bureaucracy--I'm sure the (Ancient) Greek has a phrase for it. (One
locus classicus for the "mistakes were made" was in the TASS report,
or at least its English translation, after the Chernobyl "incident".)

As for as the non-apology (a.k.a. "unapology", or "unapology
apology"), the echt form is "If I offended anyone, I sincerely
apologize"--the "if" is crucial.  "apologize(s) to anyone who was
hurt" isn't bad, though, since there's no existential commitment here


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