Begging with a thousand apologies

In his famous letter, Srinivasan Ramanajuman Aiyangar, the prodigy from Madras, a mathematics genius wrote to Godfrey Harold Hardy as: “Dear Sir, I beg to introduce myself to you as a clerk in the Accounts Department of the Port Trust Office at Madras on a salary of only £20 per annum.“. I repeat, he ‘begs’ to introduce himself. What un unfortunate use of language. If you discount it as a little ingredient of extra-polite colonial English in British Raj, it’s certainly not. It appears as Indian English while bending over backwards. Even to this date, if we disagree with someone, we ‘beg’ to differ and ‘beg’ for pardon!. 

This kind of usages may have a colonial origin, but we as Indians abundantly overuse it. It is overused it to such an extent it starts to generate mistrust. In fact, there is a stereotype of Indians overuses over-polite words. Take this for an example. A famous English show ‘Mind your Language’ has an Indian among other 10+ nationalities – Ranjeet Singh. The TCS show deals with politically incorrect stereotypes of the pupil of 10+ nationalities. Anyways, Renjeeth’s signature statement in the show is an extra-polite “excuse me” as “a Thousand Apologies.”!!

A Thousand Apologies from famous English show “Mind your Language”

More often than not, this kind of usage can get us into trouble. This either sounds like the absence of directness and considers the writer is at an inferior state (of class) as against the audience. Or, there is a possibility of it delivering a complete opposite of intended meaning.  Let me take another example. Hope you remember the CEO of India Today Group had to apologize for his blatant plagiarism in his editorial? Its been 10 years and I still remember – its such a shame.

Here it goes:

Dear Mr Hendrix, As you are surely aware we have apologized to our readers for the inadvertent error in which part of your article on Rajinikant got published in my letter from the editor. I would like to apologize to you as well. I have also written to the Editor of Slate magazine. Sincerely, Aroon Purie, Editor-in-Chief, India Today

Naturally, Grady Hendrix was pissed-off when he got this letter. The very next days. He goes on to blog his frustration in a post on what perceives to be wrong with this apology. Here it is , It would be best if you could read it; Its probably one of the best posts I have read in a decade. I agree with Grady for the most part of the post. That, specifically on Arun’s use of “I would like to apologize to you as well…”. Does this sound like an apology at all?

There is a massive difference between intent to apologies and actually apologizing.

That’s it. This post was about two letters. 🙂 Let me know what do you think. I ‘would like’ to ‘beg’ for your opinion even if it ‘begs’ to differ.  

Interestingly, even my text editor knows what’s wrong with Arun’s letter :-). The editor is asking me to correct his letter.

I would like to

P.S. I have some list of extra-sweetened phrases feel free to add more.

  • ‘What’s your good name?’.
  • “Please don’t mention it” as a response to thanks. 

2 thoughts on “Begging with a thousand apologies

  1. Another common Indianization (?) of an English colonial word is Sir.

    I am perpetually confused as to how to address the superiors in an organization.
    I thought the system of “Sir” would be phased out once I graduated out of college.
    But even today in an MNC, this way of addressal is quite common.
    Most people even expect to be addressed that way from juniors and consider it disrespectful when you talk using their first names or just calling them “Mr.Abc”.

    Maybe I’m overthinking it, but the befuddlement is real.

    That being said – Good writeup, Sir! 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

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