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August 27, 2000 - Slangman: Apologies - 2002-01-31

INTRO: This week our Wordmasters Avi Arditti and Rosanne Skirble offer some apologies.

MUSIC:"Who's Sorry Now"/Connie Francis

AA: There's a new law in California. It says expressions of sympathy to a person involved in an accident, or to that person's family, cannot be used as evidence of liability in a civil action. In other words, it's OK to say you're sorry.

We talked with Slangman David Burke in Los Angeles about some of the ways Americans say they're sorry. We start at the dramatic end, with "I'm sorry from the bottom of my heart."


"That's definitely a common way to apologize because 'from the bottom of your heart,' that is as profound as you can possibly go. They also say this, what they call a spoonerism."

RS: "A spoonerism?"

BURKE: "Where you flip the two main words in a sentence. I've heard this out here -- they even use it on a popular radio show out here, where they'll say 'I'm sorry from the heart of my bottom."

AA:Lately a new way to apologize has entered the American vocabulary. Slangman David Burke has even found it out on the water:


BURKE: "On my rowing team, anytime anybody makes a mistake, another guy on the rowing team will say, 'Oops, my bad.' AA: "M-y b-a-d, which makes no sense gramatically."

BURKE: "It makes no sense at all, and the first time I heard that, I said, 'excuse me, what did you say?' My bad."

RS: "My mistake, my fault."

BURKE: "Exactly, it's my mistake, and it's extremely popular. I hear that all the time, and not just from teen-agers but also from people in their twenties and thirties. And what's even more popular than "my bad" is, if you make a mistake, it's common to say some one-syllable word like 'whoops' or 'uh-oh.'"

RS: "Or oops."

BURKE: "Well, what is the most popular one -- it comes from 'the Simpsons,' when you make a mistake?"

AA: "It's a sound effect."

BURKE: "I see this all the time, it is so popular, and it's spelled d-o-h. Doh!


AA: "Right, it's Homer Simpson, the father on this animated T-V show."

BURKE: " I hear that actually first even before I hear 'my bad.'"

AA: "And you slap your palm to your forehead as you're saying it."

BURKE: "Exactly, it's like 'Doh! I made a mistake.'"

AA: "The Simpsons" isn't the only American T-V show to spin off a way to apologize. So did a cold war-era comedy about a bumbling secret agent named Maxwell Smart.


BURKE: "Remember the old 'Get Smart' show?"

AA/RS: "Yeah?"

BURKE: "On 'Get Smart' remember what Max would always say to his chief when he made a mistake?"

RS: "Sorry about that chief."

BURKE: Right, 'sorry about that chief.' Although 'Get Smart' has been off the air for some time -- I should say, they stopped filming it a long, long time ago. Because of reruns, a lot of people still use it. I still hear 'sorry about that,' and they say it like Maxwell Smart."

AA: OK, once you say you're sorry -- however you say it -- what next?


BURKE: "'What can I do to make it up to you.' And that's a very confusing one to non-native speakers, because there are so many prepositions. There's 'to' and there's 'up.' 'What can I do to make it up to you' means 'what can I do for you.'"

RS: "Or what can I do to make it better."

BURKE: "Exactly."

AA: "There really isn't a good answer. People don't expect you to actually say, 'well, yes, you can do this, that and the other.' It's kind of rhetorical."

BURKE: "Right. Usually somebody will say, 'that's OK.' What they'll do then is forgive you, and since we're talking about apologies, what would someone say then to forgive you? So if someone said, 'what can I do to make it up to you?' well, the other person might say, 'let it slide,' which means 'let the mistake slide right by, and I won't pay any more attention to it.' Another way to say forgive is, 'just let it go.'"

AA: "Don't worry about it."

BURKE: "But that's just normal, everyday speech, 'don't worry about it.' Or there are a lot of different ways -- for example, you made some huge mistake and you feel so terrible, you say, 'Oh, David, I'm sorry from the bottom of my heart.' And I say to you, 'Oh, please, no biggie.' We also hear the abbreviation of, instead of 'it's not a problem,' we hear 'not a prob' or 'no prob.' Or what a lot of teens will say, of course, is 'whatever.'"

AA: Whatever your interest in the slang and idioms that Americans use, check out Slangman David Burke's all-new Web site at

You can also write to Rosanne and me at VOA Wordmaster, Washington DC 20237 USA or With Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.

MUSIC: "I'm sorry"/Brenda Lee