Public (non-) apologies: The discourse of minimizing responsibility

The frequent realizations of apologies in the global arena since the beginning of the 1990s, has turned the speech act into a common device for image restoration. In spite of the advantages that public figures can benefit in contemporary politics of trust from apologizing, the speech act still poses a threat to the public figure’s image. Apologies can undermine the public figure’s desired face, and project an image of a person who is lack of professional capabilities. The aim of this paper is to examine how public figures realize creative forms of apologetic speech in order to minimize their responsibility for misdeeds, while calculating the costs and benefits in producing apology utterances. Based on the analysis of 354 apologies made in the Israeli public discourse between 1997 and 2004, I demonstrate tactics which range on four main categories of minimizing responsibility for misdeeds: compromising the apology’s performative verb (e.g. using the verb sorry or regret instead of apologize), blurring the nature of the offense (e.g. by apologizing for a specific component, rather than the entirety of the offense), questioning the identity of the offended (e.g. claiming that no one should be offended by the act) or questioning the identity of the offender (e.g. explicitly denying direct responsibility for the offense).

Zohar Kampf, Journal of Pragmatics, Volume 41, Issue 11, November 2009, Pages 2257–2270.