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Monday, June 08, 2009

 

A concept in search of a word

Here's a linguistic challenge. You know that not-really-an-apology people sometimes give? It's usually rendered as, 'Well, I apologise, but I only said that because you provoked me,' or 'Sorry, but I only did it because...' The device is basically to embed the word 'sorry' or 'apologise' deep in a renewed self-justification or recrimination. The word's there, but it serves a purely decorative function.

It's a rather tricky argumentative strategy, because there's a social taboo against refusing to accept an apology. But if someone does refuse to be mollified by this, they're not really being unreasonable: the apology didn't express genuine contrition or desire to make amends, but instead was just a word, used as perfunctorily as possible in order to get the 'making amends' bit over with as quickly as possible before returning to the fray. It wasn't really an apology, any more than saying, 'Yes, but you're still wrong' is an agreement. But if one rejects it, then one can be accused of being ungracious, attributing bad faith, and generally giving your opponent a weapon to use against you.

We need a word for this. Things that happen a lot need words. If we can say, 'That isn't a reason, it's an excuse,' we ought to be able to say, 'That isn't an apology, it's a ... something.'

Let's have some suggestions. The best I can come up with is 'apolofication', a portmanteau or 'apology' and 'justification', but if anyone has a better one, let's get it in circulation.

Comments:
Language Log has written on these quite a bit... I think they just refer to them as "non-apology apologies", but that is obviously not what you are looking for.
 
Fauxpology? Everyone loves adding faux to the beginnings of words, especially vowel-initial words.

And googling gives me 340 hits, so it's clear what the word means, but it's not in common circulation.

A bunch of the Language Log links are in a roundup here.
 
The folks at Fandom Wank use the term "Heidipology", in reference to an individual who was apparently well known for such 'apologies.'

http://wiki.fandomwank.com/index.php/Heidipology

They likewise use the term "fauxpology" which might be a better pick, since it requires less explanation.
 
The irony is that what the original post describes is the original definition of "apology," as in religious apologetics. Apology meant justification and defense of oneself or one's theology for a very long time.

With that in mind, I'm tempted to call passive-aggressive apologies "apologetics," but the term has perhaps too much of a technical or "inside baseball" feel. "Fauxpology" has the benefit of being immediately understandable.

The best word I've come up with is "tergiversation," an obscure synonym for equivocation which connotes evasive language in the service of concealed betrayal. It might easily be press-ganged for the specific purpose of denoting insincere or empty and self-justifying expressions of contrition. In the most literal sense, it means to turn one's back.

We also have older cliches like "crocodile tears" that could do the job, and the likes of Thomas Aquinas classifies what you're discussing as "dissimulation," distinct from outright lying in that it is a half-truth or an insincere profession or contrition.

Oddly, despite the length both Aquinas and Augustine spend on various shades of lying and insincerity, including much about false contrition, neither seems to have coined a nice one-word term for the specific problem of insincere contrition. There's "attrition," which is simply imperfect contrition out of fear of Hell rather than love of God; and there's "recreance," but both of these likewise have too much theological weight to apply to most examples of fauxpologies.
 
I like "fake apology"; it's pretty simple and self-explanatory.

Though I think that might be different from what you're describing in your post, which is more like a weak, vague, pro-forma apology immediately followed by an excuse which nullifies the apology. I guess you could call that a "false-flag excuse", but I'm sure there's a better term to be found. (Not to say you absolutely can't offer an excuse and an apology together, but it has to be clear that the excuse is mitigation, not exculpation, or else the apology is just a smokescreen.)

I'm kind of amazed there isn't a Greek term for this sort of thing... but perhaps a classical rhetorician would never willingly even give the appearance of being in the wrong, except as obvious sarcasm.
 
Oh, yeah, I misread Kit's original post. This really isn't the same as the "fake apology" that interleaper links to or that the people at Language Log write about. Though it's still possibly related, in that what Kit talks about could be considered equivalent to something of the form "I'm sorry that you..." (though what follows differs).
 
A hock in the face as a friend of mine refers to it. I really want a word for that too. I've been handed so many of them in the last 6 months I need a plural.
 
fauxpology sounds to me like foe-pology. Which I guess is what we're talking about here, the kind of apology that does nothing to reconcile the warring parties.
 
Unpology?
 
The word I've seen in use for the past few years is "notpology." I like it.
 
A “sorry excuse,” maybe?
 
I've heard "not-pology" used the most, but I like the flow of "fauxpology."
 
cop-out, that is such a "cop-out!" as an official response to the non-apology.
 
We also need a word for the following type of apology -

'I am sorry that you feel offended by my comments.'

In other words, I don't retract my comments, and it's your own fault if you're offended.
 
That would essentially be the "fake apology" or "heidipology" from above, wouldn't it?

(bughb: the insect goddess of war)
 
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