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Sorry, Not Sorry?

Are Canadians Actually Polite? Why do Canadians say Sorry so much? Are Canadians actually Sorry? What does Sorry mean to Canadians?

Teddy Bear holding a sign that says "Sorry"

Would you be surprised to know that in Canada there is a “Sorry” Bill. In Canada “Sorry” is used so much that the government created and Act that made the word “Sorry” non admissible in court. It was created because so many Canadians use the word sorry as an acknowledgement, and not as an admission of guilt. Could you imagine how many Canadians would be jailed if they hadn’t?

Sorry in Action

Have you been to a Canadian store and witnessed the “Sorry” in action? Maybe someone needed around you, dropped something, or seen your struggles with toddlers, and you got the “Sorry”. Canadians are not saying they are at fault for something, as so many people use the word differently then we do. Sorry is an acknowledgement, a sort of empathic way of speaking that can mean so much more. “Sorry” is typically used as a slang or informal term. Which can represent so many different words. Excuse me is the most common, but it can also mean “I’m annoyed with you”, or “I’m empathic to you”. “Sorry” represents so many things.

When someone is trying to reach around you and they say sorry its because they are saying “Excuse me” The tone of voice will tell you if they are annoyed or politely trying to get something. If they dropped something they use "Sorry" to acknowledge that was something they did and that the item may have been loud to sensitive ears, or fallen into someone’s way. Or the age old saying sorry to the item just dropped (Guilty, LOL)

When someone is struggling and the person is not able to help them, a sorry will be an acknowledgement of what they are experiencing and that they are empathic to your experience.

The word “Sorry” is used as an adjective, verb, noun, and punctuation! To understands it completely you need to listen to the tone or emphasis that’s put on the word. Canadians use tones and volumes in the way they speak more so than any other country. (More on that another time) If Sorry is used with a strong tone of voice, maybe a slightly louder octave it typically means you are at wrong and I see your guilt, or maybe they are annoyed with you and are using the Sorry as sarcasm. And again, an acknowledgment. Maybe it’s a gentle “Sorry” that you didn’t even know was coming. That is typical when someone is busy and the person saying sorry doesn’t really want to interrupt them, but really needs to. Like if someone is trying to get a baby to sleep, but someone needs their attention.

As an Adjective Sorry has been used to describe the condition of an area, or item. Like the ball field is in a sorry state right now. You know that its not usable, or the condition is deplorable. This is not overly common, but is still heard frequently. Sorry as a verb is probably the most common. You will commonly hear “ Sorry to hear that” or “Sorry that happened”. Canadians constantly use “Sorry” to express their empathic nature. I’m not really able to explain why Canadians use it in place of other nouns they just do. Sometimes saying things like “ I owe her a Sorry for what I did” When in other countries this makes absolutely no sense, here is Canada it does. And then there’s the teenager “Sorry.” I am just categorizing as that, not to offend anyone (Sorry). It’s the “Sorry” that is accompanied by the eye roll, the sagging shoulders and exasperated tone, typical of a teen that hears it so many times before, but knows that if they are rude, the storm clouds will loom over their heads. Also, parents commonly use the word “Sorry” to express when they disapprove of a child’s actions or behaviors. Commonly you will see hands on hips when its spoken this way. Definitely, a punctuation!

So, the next time you hear a Canadian say “Sorry” take some time to listen to the tone and pay attention to the body language. More then likely they are saying something else. It may or may not be an apology, an acknowledgment, or just Canadian politeness

FAQ Understanding the Canadian 'Sorry'

  1. Why do Canadians say 'Sorry' so much?

  2. What does 'Sorry' actually mean in Canada?

  3. Is 'Sorry' legally considered an admission of guilt in Canada?

  4. How can you tell what a Canadian means by 'Sorry'?

  5. Does 'Sorry' serve different grammatical purposes in Canada?

Intrigued by the Canadian way of communication? Dive deeper into the cultural nuances of Canada and embrace the subtle art of politeness and empathy. Whether you're visiting Canada or simply interested in cultural linguistics, understanding the Canadian 'Sorry' opens a window to the country's unique etiquette.

hands holding up a miniature Canadian Flag


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