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Stop Apologizing for the Inconvenience

August 3rd, 2022 by dk

How did “we apologize for the inconvenience” become ubiquitous? I’ve pondered that question, mostly so that you won’t have to. According to a Google Books search, “inconvenience” has been steadily declining for centuries. It comes up one-tenth as often now as it did in the 1840s. Meanwhile, “apologize” has recently tripled in usage.

In other words, we’re inconvenienced a lot less, but we’re apologizing a lot more.

The simple answer and larger trend is that we’ve accepted contrition as a substitute for competence. It’s expensive to train staff to do things right every time. It’s cheaper to teach them to apologize with unctuous sincerity. Apologies have multiplied like Tribbles on the Enterprise, but the ubiquity of “inconvenience” takes us from “Star Trek” to “The Twilight Zone.”

Those five words in that order are almost always the same. At first I thought the phrase grew out of our obsession with efficiency. Whatever mishap is being addressed in the apology, a loss of time is almost certainly a factor. Having a single apology for every circumstance is itself an ode to efficiency.

But the phrase presumes that we are efficient and productive with every moment. That’s not true for any of us, unless we work inside an Amazon warehouse. So the reasoning doesn’t quite explain how inconvenience steals the spotlight for every tangled transaction.

Memes develop because people like them. Stock phrases like this one survive and multiply because they offer something that their alternatives do not. I think I  discovered the secret ingredient that keeps us coming back for more.

Highlighting our inconvenience sneaks in a dollop of false flattery. Convenience is prized most by the upper class. Only rich people assume that life will not (or should not) include daily struggles.

A fuller message can be extracted from this one-size-fits-all apology: “The bad news is that we lost your luggage. The good news is that you are someone who prizes convenience above all other things, so we won’t even mention the luggage. Your inconvenience is worth so much more than that luggage, wherever it is.”

The apologizers are using a misdirection worthy of Eddie Haskell. ”Why, yes, Mrs. Cleaver, Wally and I broke that vase with a baseball bat. By the way, is that a new dress you’re wearing?” You’re being served incompetence with a side of cloying obsequiousness. A spoonful of sugar makes the apology go down.

Thanks to constant repetition, the slather seeps into our self-talk. Like it or not, we’re wired to believe anything if it’s repeated enough. We should stop accepting this blanket apology because the fabric of society is beginning to fray.

We assume that convenience is what others want most. No wonder loneliness spreads like a plague. We don’t drop in on friends unannounced. We don’t even call our friends without checking first to be sure it won’t inconvenience them. (Every surprise — even a pleasant one — is also a slight inconvenience.)

Can society survive without surprising little exchanges between friends? We may soon find out, and the answer may prove to be terribly inconvenient.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Wednesday and Sunday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at He has apparently been watching too many vintage television shows lately.

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