This year OxfordDictionaries.com officially added nonapology to their lexicon. Another witty slang term—fauxpology—nods toward the false, inadequate nature of these expressions. Consider these notable nonapologies:
• After the infamous Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction, Justin Timberlake said, “What occurred was unintentional and completely regrettable, and I apologize if you guys were offended.”
• Cyclist Lance Armstrong, caught in an epic doping scandal, expressed regret for causing “stress” (rather than for his actual cheating).
• When Volkswagen was recently caught wiring cars to skirt emissions rules, their CEO prefaced his “I’m sorry” by saying: “It was a technical problem. . . . An ethical problem? I cannot understand why you say that. . . . We didn’t lie.”
A nonapology may sneakily blame the other party for their response to the wrong: “I’m sorry you were offended.” Or it may be an attempt to justify one’s actions: “I’m sorry I did that, but I was merely trying to . . .”
It may be a self-focused way of saying “I feel terrible,” centering on the pain of the apologizer rather than the wronged party. Or it may be a “blame the universe” fauxpology—“mistakes were made, such and such happened”—as if vague, general forces caused the wrong rather than the apologizer.
It’s easy to point a finger at headline-grabbing nonapologies—but it’s much more difficult to face our own. Yet if we’re honest, we’ve each felt that drive to save face and offer half-apologies rather than step into the humility and self-awareness that a true apology demands.1