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"Sorry" vs. "excuse me" in Irish vs. American English


Sometime after 2001 I began to say "sorry" instead of "excuse me," when I hadn't heard what somebody'd said.

This comes from the influence of the Irish.*

It sounds odd in the ear of an American. Sometimes I have to explain.

The Americans and Irish use these terms in an almost exactly mirror-image way.

To the American, "sorry" means "I apologize." But in Ireland, "sorry" means "excuse me" — whereas "excuse me" in Ireland seems to imply "forgive me."

"You don't have to excuse yourself," people might say — or at least imply.

So you learn. You just say "sorry" — and the Irish will excuse you.


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* The Dutch prepared me for this usage, when I lived in Amsterdam. They say "sorry" (with various alternative pronunciations of "r") to excuse themselves, to ask for clarity, and to get attention.

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* (The "almost" caveat is based upon the fact that the Irish are greatly more aware of U.S. culture than vice versa.)

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