The word sorry has so many meanings that I nearly got lost looking it up in the Oxford English Dictionary.
There’s the perhaps less common lament – a sorry state of affairs – and of course the go-to apology – I’m sorry.
Interestingly, the word sorry seems to have the same Germanic root as sore, but not the same root as sorrow, though the words are often thought to be related.
As the OED explains, sorry and sore “denote both physical and mental suffering in early use (and are now largely restricted to aspects of pain),” while “sorrow and its cognates primarily express the idea of mental and emotional suffering.”
What I find particularly interesting is the varied meanings of the expression, “I’m sorry.”
While commonly used as an apology – I’m sorry about something I am responsible for – I am a particular fan of sorry as…a sort of universal acknowledgement.
I use “I’m sorry” colloquially in place of longer expressions such as, “I’m sorry that happened to you,” I’m sorry that reality exists the way it exists,” or perhaps more informally, “I’m sorry that what you just described totally sucks.”
I don’t think sorry needs to be an apology. I prefer to think of it simply as an acknowledgement. A quiet head nod, a moment of understanding. These things happen, it says. These things happen, and that’s too bad.