. 1 min read

The joy of learning a foreign language is learning how weird your native language is. Many English words have no direct counterpart in other languages. Introducing: “sorry” in Mandarin.

In Mandarin, sorry is a strong word, only to be used for serious occasions. You wouldn’t say 对不起 for accidentally bumping into someone on the train.

You might laugh and think - oh, Mandarin is so impolite! That’s what I initially thought too…

Sorry in English is so overused that it barely means anything. In London, I saw English commuters apologising to inanimate objects on the Tube.

How often have you heard these meaningless apologies in English?

  • “I am sorry if it came across that way.” IF?? Apologies cannot be conditional.
  • “I am sorry but I was busy.” BUT?? Apologies cannot include excuses.

In English, we say sorry by convention. When we apologise, we don’t stop to think about what we’re actually saying. Perhaps we’re not as polite as we think we are…

Photo by Diya Pokharel on Unsplash.