“I’m Sorry” What do you mean by that?

Posted By: Margie Babon


I'm Sorry


Saying sorry varies in different meaning not only to the extent of the reason behind it but also according to the different culture, age and gender.  Saying sorry doesn’t easily translate according to Harvard Business Review article published in June 2012.  “The confusion over the meaning of an occasion for “I’m Sorry” extends beyond those countries; indeed, it seems that virtually every culture has its own rules. In India, apologies are far less than in Japan. In Hong Kong they are so prevalent and ritualized that many people are inured to them.”

It could be a form of regret in Nigeria while for British, saying sorry is common and over-used word that makes into daily conversation even if they don’t mean it. According to survey of Esure car insurance company published in 2007 by BBC-UK, 37% use it to apologize to partners, 19% to strangers, 14% to our children, 14% to work colleague, 8% to friends, 5% to parents, 3% to siblings and 1% to the boss.


Here are the top 5 reasons in saying sorry according to British studies:

  1. “Sorry I don’t have time to talk right now”- polite way of telling to a person that there is no chance yet for a conversation
  2. “Sorry, my kid loves to pick flowers, or I’m sorry he is always like that”- apologizing on behalf of their children, spouse or partner
  3. “Sorry, I can’t understand what you’re saying, could you pls. repeat that”- saying sorry when the words are not clear or not listened well.
  4. “Sorry, not sure what you mean”- means it demands further explanation
  5. “I’m sorry”- apologizing for letting someone down or lied to.


In order to avert problems and attract attention (not apologizing for their fault) is very common in Canada according to the studies conducted by Strathy Undergraduate Working Paper published in 2010.

In the survey question of “When You Bump into a Stranger,” age 18-25 were the most likely to say sorry. Age 26 and older accounts 50% while 9-17 years old were the least likely to respond.

Age 18-25 uses the word sorry in different scenarios; they frequently use the word sorry even it is one’s fault. They are more interested in impressing others and making personal connection in their career and everyday life, therefore more open to keep the relationship positive,

In Japan and most in East Asian countries which is more of group-oriented character, saying sorry is to express an eagerness to patch-up relationship even if it is not their fault that translates as “it is unfortunate that this happened.” While for Chinese, apologies focus on the penalties of a wrongdoing. Apology to Americans means, “I am the one responsible,” saying sorry link with blame, accountability or liable to a fault.


The word apology comes from the Greek word “apologia” which means “a speech in defense.”  In Oxford English Dictionary, “apology” means a defense, justification or an excuse. But the modern usage shifted its meaning “to acknowledge and express regret for a fault” that captures acknowledgement, sympathy and vulnerability.

Saying sorry and giving apology needs effectiveness which means there is an intention to be straightforward, being honest and sincere of what you are apologizing for.  In understanding such differences disregard any country or culture, understanding the meaning behind it is far more important. Saying sorry is a tool to make the relationship better to build trust and facilitates negotiations and conflict in business.



About the Author

Margie Babon was given a privilege to be a wildlife photographer in 2006 that let her choose to become a vegetarian for seven years now. Has background in film making as a producer and researcher on the plight of Agta-Dumagat documentary film Children of the Mountains that garnered the Mark Haslam Awardee in 2005 in Toronto, Canada. Sharing her passion in drawing & creative writing  is a great opportunity to express her wisdom  which is far beyond teaching career for more than five years in College of Architecture and School of Fine Arts in Manila.


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