AMERICAN MOSAIC #816 - Apology?

By Nancy Steinbach


Our VOA question this week comes in an e-mail from China. A listener there has a question about the recent incident between Chinese and American airplanes which resulted in the death of a Chinese pilot. China demanded an apology. The United States said it expressed regret and was very sorry that the pilot died. He asks about the meaning of the words "sorry" and "apology."

The American Heritage dictionary says the word "sorry" means feeling or expressing sympathy or regret. It says an "apology" is a statement expressing regret or asking pardon for a fault or offense.

Americans use the phrase "I'm sorry" to mean both of these. For example, if a person tells people that his house was destroyed by fire, they may say they are sorry about it. This does not mean they caused the fire, or that they take any responsibility for it. It simply means they share in his sad feeling about the destruction of his property.

The words "I'm sorry" can also mean that a person takes responsibility for an offense. To continue our example, let us say that the man's house caught fire because his wife left a cigarette burning. She would say that she is sorry. In this situation, "I'm sorry" is a way of asking for a pardon for the offense of destroying the house.

In the recent diplomatic situation between the United States and China, China wanted the United States to take responsibility for the death of the pilot by apologizing. The United States would not take such responsibility because officials said the American airplane did nothing wrong. American officials did, however, say they were very sorry that the Chinese pilot died. This did not mean that they took responsibility for his death, only that they regretted that it happened.

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