Thursday, March 01, 2007

Nonapology Apologies

This will be short and sweet. Time after time after time, after someone has insulted some group of people -- blacks, gays, Hispanics, etc. -- and discovers that this has gotten himself into hot water, his publicist will craft an apology that contains neither an admission of guilt nor even an admission that what he (almost invariably the offender is a male) said was offensive.

The most recent incidence of this involves the radio broadcaster for the Boston Celtics NBA games. During a broadcast, he said of one of the fairly rare female basketball referees that she should "go back to the kitchen" upon objecting to one of her calls. This got him in trouble. The way out when caught with one's foot in one's mouth is to apologize immediately. Such people very frequently come up with a nonapoligy apology like
"If I said anything that might have been insensitive or sexist in any way, then I apologize because she worked extremely hard to get where she is now, end of quote."
This nonapology contains no admission of wrong-doing. In fact it doesn't even acknowledge that he said anything at all, much less anything that was offensive.

Note that the following sentence is perfectly self-consistent:
If I said anything that might have been insensitive or sexist in any way, then I apologize, but I said nothing at all so I have nothing at all to apologize for.
So, he hasn't admitted he said anything at all. Suppose though that someone replays his remark and proves he talked. He might then say the self-consistent sentence:
If I said anything that might have been insensitive or sexist in any way, then I apologize, but I said nothing at all that was insensitive or sexist in any way
The people who do this are usually male athletes, male broadcasters of sports events (who can forget Jimmy the Greek?, and politicians. President Nixon's post-resignation apology that wasn't one was
I regret deeply any injuries that may have been done in the course of the events that led to this decision. I would say only that if some of my judgments were wrong, and some were wrong, they were made in what I believed at the time to be the best interest of the Nation.
Notice that "any injuries that may have been done" does not concede that any injuries were done. If none were not done, why would he need to resign? Nixon did a little better in the section in which he said:
I would say only that if some of my judgments were wrong, and some were wrong, they were made in what I believed at the time to be the best interest of the Nation.
This does at least admit that some of his judgments were wrong after first having cast doubt on their having been any. However, his claim that he was always acting in what he took to be the best interests of the nation to some degree takes back his apology.

In an interview with David Frost, Nixon claimed that if a President believes that some action that would normally be illegal is not illegal if it is done in the interests of the nation or is done to preserve the safety of the nation then that action would be legal. Nixon in that interview suggests that President Lincoln once said
"Actions which otherwise would be unconstitutional, could become lawful if undertaken for the purpose of preserving the Constitution and the Nation."
So Nixon thinks that Lincoln believed the position that sometimes one must violate the constitution in order to save it.This will remind older folks of the famous statement by a US general during the Vietnam War that we had to destroy a village in order to save it. George Bush must like this way of looking at things given how often he has violated the law.

Well, it seems I can't write short blogs. I hope, however, that this one was at least sweet.

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Blogger Mrs. Geezerette said...

Not long ago, the Pope made a statement about Islam that infuriated the Muslim community. His apologies that followed could be classified as non-apologies, don't you think?

6:15 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why did the Pope need to apologize? People say offensive but true things around me and I do not demand an apology. Wasn't what he said true? Correct me or educate me if I am not. I agree that nonapologies are rampant. Taking responsibility is a fading idea nowadays.

8:52 AM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

Susieq, you are right. I have found this apology: "“At this time I wish also to add that I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims." This is an apology for the Muslim reaction, not for what he said. This sort of nonapology apology is not uncommon and is much worse than my examples.

9:50 AM

Blogger Mrs. Geezerette said...

I am not criticizing the Pope necessarily. I am merely saying that his apologies, which I think there were at least three, were nonapologies according to LG's definition.

I am not at all clear as to what the Pope said about Islam in the first place and in what context he meant it. I think the context was a historical one though.

The Muslim community wanted the Pope to take back what he had said about Islam. But the Pope, for whatever reason maybe one having to do with the truth, was not willing to take anything back. He would not back off from what he had originally said. Yet, he tried to appease the Muslim community with these nonapologies. Perhaps he was wrong to even try, because Muslims could see through it.

10:39 AM

Blogger Wishydig said...

Years ago Chick Hearn (then announcer of the Lakers) made a comment during a game that some people felt was incredibly racist. I wasn't so certain. Still, I was impressed by his response when he learned of the reaction. He acknowledged that what he said hurt people. It was insensitive, yet he chose to say it and he was sorry he did.

Too often there is an attempt to apologize then explain--as if to argue that the apology is proof of magnanimity and not an admission of a poor choice.

3:29 AM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

Yes, Michael, your example is a real apology. If persons who stick their feet in their mouths would follow this example, their troubles would like go away unless of course one does a Jimmy the Greek kind of thing.

11:32 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks SusieQ for you clarification.

2:51 PM

Blogger Robin Edgar said...

Yo, Language Guy,

Ever hear of a "double negative"?

Here's a good example of one. . .

"If none were not done, why would he need to resign?"

Just trying to be helpful. :-)

I very much agree with your basic take on Nonapology Apologies, or what I like to call a sorry excuse for an apology. . .

3:17 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

And what's wrong with a double negative? Exactly, your words, not your former English teachers' words.

I like your site.

3:47 PM

Blogger Robin Edgar said...

The problem with any double negative is that it negates itself Language Guy. Just like in math two negatives make a positive. You should have written -

If none were done, why would he need to resign?

Glad you like The Emerson Avenger blog. I expect to be blogging about nonapology apologies myself again soon as a result of being prompted by your post and some others.

12:13 AM

Blogger Robin Edgar said...

BTW If you wanted to be more precise you could have said -

If no injuries were done, why would he (Nixon) need to resign?


Robin Edgar

12:20 AM

Blogger Robin Edgar said...

I think that I will opportunistically take this opportunity to sincerely apologize to you for being a bit *too* flippant in my initial comment here Language Guy, and possibly a bit to blunt in my as yet unpublished follow-up comments. I was trying to be lighthearted and humorous, as the smiley suggests, but in rereading the comment it does come across as a bit "in your face" and thus somewhat rude, especially in light of the fact that you are a Professor Emeritus of Linguistics. As much as it appears that you did not take offense at my words please accept what I hope will be perceived as a bona fide unsolicited apology for my unnecessarily flippant and blunt manner.

1:11 AM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

Sadly, no, double negatives rarely make a positive in English. The fact is that we speakers of standard English understand double negative sentences perfectly. "I ain't gonna eat no spinach." does not mean 'I am gonna eat spinach' and you know it. It means 'I am not going to each spinach.' Many dialects of English use the double negative and some languages use it as their primary form of negation.

Read my blog, Logic and Language where the error of your thinking that language and logic should be alike is discussed. You have bought into the crap you learned in school sad to say.

6:58 AM


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