The Complexity of "Excuse Me": Politeness AnalyzedTaryn Parrish

Polite customs are best observed among strangers. One of the major hubs of stranger interaction is the grocery store, which tends to be overcrowded with hungry people who move at different speeds. Some only stick to eight items or less so they can express check their way out of there. Others take their time, thinking, “Should I get the orange juice with or without pulp?” “What’s the difference between ricotta cheese and cottage cheese?” “Ooo, Dunkaroos are on sale! Better get a second cart.”

In such a space, with its narrow aisles, giant fruit stands and cookie sales, people are going to need to get past each other. Typically, when a person is trying to get past another without violently shoving them, threatening them or yelling at them, they tend to resort to one of two polite sayings: “Sorry” or “Excuse Me.”

But there appears to be the growing and popular third option: making sounds. As one person begins to squeeze past another, they may squeal an: “Oooop!”, “Boooop!”, “Merrrrp!”, “Eeeeekkk!” “Mmmmmm!”, “Ahhhhhhhh!” and most puzzlingly “Oops!”

This may have happened to you, or someone you love. You may have even done this yourself. No matter, it leaves us all asking the same question: Why? (Especially “Oops” – that is just downright confusing! How dare you!)

After extensive field research, the use of these dolphin-like sounds does not appear to be rooted in rudeness. Here are two theories:

1) Fear of Misusing “Sorry”: Canadians in particular are notorious for misusing “sorry” as they are constantly using it in place of “Excuse Me” or “Hey Buddy, watch where you’re going.” You may have even found yourself saying “Sorry” to a fellow shopper, even though they are the ones who heartlessly pushed you into the pineapples. And those things will draw blood!

You see, politeness can hurt if we misuse it, so maybe we should begin to realize our abuse of “sorry” and try to avoid using it if out of context. Because let’s be honest, we’re not usually “sorry” for having to get by someone. They’re in the way! Mindlessly running their shopping carts into produce displays because they haven’t learned how to walk and text.

2) The Effects of Sarcasm & Sass: Politeness, much like anything, can be butchered by sarcasm, eye rolls and air quotes. A “sorry” for example, can be insulting based on the delivery and become a sarcastic apology. An anti-apology. A sarpology.

E.g: “Sawwwwreeeeeeeeuuhhhh” or “I’m sorry that people are so jealous of me…but I can’t help it that I’m popular.”

While “sorry” can be equated with inauthenticity, when used correctly it conveys a proper apology. “Excuse me”, on the other hand, for some reason appears to be more tightly linked with sass, provocation and impatience.

E.g: “Excuse me [young man/lady, boyfriend/girlfriend, neighborhood nemesis], what did you just say to me?! Oh you’ve done it now!”

In conclusion, it seems that some of us are paranoid of using “sorry” out of context and afraid of using “excuse Me” because it can be interpreted as harsh and impolite. Our polite saying is now impolite and, without a suitable replacement, we crumble into mumbling noisemakers.

This is inexcusable!

We need to either reclaim the politeness of “excuse me,” stop tiptoeing around “sorry”, or come up with a brand new expression to be used when we need to get past someone. You know, like how Jerry began to replace “God Bless You” with “You are so good looking.”

In the same vein, I propose a gentler way to say “excuse me”, here it is: “Excuse me, I need to get to the cookies.” You don’t even need to be in the grocery store for this to make sense, it works in any and all contexts. Cookies are important, yet non-threatening. People will totally understand.

Featured image via Shutterstock

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  1. Thanks for giving your ideas. I might also like to mention that video games have been actually evolving. Modern tools and revolutions have served create reasonable and interactive games. These entertainment games were not as sensible when the concept was first being used. Just like other styles of electronics, video games as well have had to advance by means of many many years. This itself is testimony for the fast development of video games.

  2. What a great article! I am a big fan of saying, “Excuse me” as I walk in front of someone’s vision as they are deciding between Pulp or No Pulp. I really appreciate politeness and general awareness that there are other people in store trying to get their bizness done :) Nice job!

  3. As a Southerner, I love courtesy words. It blows my mind when I’m in the grocery store at my mom’s in South Florida and the Snowbirds grumble under their breath when you are blocking their way. I have being sarcastic and turned around using every courtesy word in the book to them. “Oh, excuse me. I am so sorry. Please, let me get out of your way.” I love living in the South. We never meet a stranger, because we smile and greet everyone, asking how they are, and genuinely care. Manners have been forgotten. I was raised to respect my elders. If at a family function, I was taught that elders got their food first, then the kids went. And if an elder couldn’t get their own food, you asked what they would like and get it for them. One side of my family wasn’t raised that way.

    • Agreed! I live in the South and you say “Sorry” any time you pass someone. You nod at people as you catch eyes in the aisles. I’m an over-user of the phrase “Excuse me, can I squeeze in here really quick?”

  4. Or you could say pardon me? It’s almost IMPOSSIBLE to make that sound sarcastic. Or we could just be nice humans and hope that people don’t take our politeness for sarcasm.

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