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Zer Netmouse
April 21st, 2004
09:17 pm

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epistemological/linguistic question
When someone says something you didn't hear or you weren't sure you heard correctly, and you say "sorry?" or "excuse me?" to get them to repeat or clarify, would you say you are in fact apologizing at that point, or are those words filling some other social or technical purpose?

Also, is there another similarly polite way to tell someone you couldn't hear them that is not an apology?

I suppose "could you repeat that?" comes to mind, but I'd welcome other ideas.

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From:ratphooey
Date:April 21st, 2004 06:30 pm (UTC)
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There is always the simple, elegant "What?"
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From:yix
Date:April 21st, 2004 06:50 pm (UTC)
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yup, better than mine...

"Huh?"
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From:jeffreyab
Date:April 21st, 2004 06:42 pm (UTC)
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Cincinnati Germans use "Please" instead of "Sorry."
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From:sarahf
Date:April 21st, 2004 06:57 pm (UTC)
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Well, I guess it fills both functions, but in the polite social sense of taking the blame upon yourself for not hearing them properly, rather than blaming them for not speaking clearly. So, it can be read as "Excuse me, could you repeat that because I didn't hear you clearly," or "I'm sorry, but I wasn't able to hear what you said. Could you repeat yourself." Linguistically and conventionally, you're "apologizing" for putting them to the inconvenience of repeating themselves for your benefit.

"Pardon me?" comes to mind as a replacement, but I guess that also means, "Pardon me for not hearing you properly. Could you repeat yourself," but because it sounds more English, it therefore sounds more condescending.

Hrm.
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From:mishamish
Date:April 21st, 2004 07:21 pm (UTC)
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Yeah... what she said...

I usually go for "What was that?" I guess the thing is, anytime you DON'T put the "apology" bit in there, it kinda sounds brusque or rude.

The question it raises to me is "While historically, it might have meant "I'm sorry for not listening closer, what did you say?" I wonder if it still carries that meaning NOW, or if it's just come to be a place holder.... Hmmmm...
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From:minnehaha
Date:April 21st, 2004 08:02 pm (UTC)
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In Cincinnati, they say: "Please?"

In French, it is polite to say: "Comment?" Literally "how," but more like "what" in this context.

B
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From:minnehaha
Date:April 21st, 2004 08:04 pm (UTC)
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Nice photo, BTW.

B
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From:backrubbear
Date:April 21st, 2004 09:45 pm (UTC)
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Most of my friends say something like "I want you to arfle mumble fop?" or something similar - repeating back much of what you heard, including the misunderstood part.

Sometimes what you think you heard is more fun than what was really said.
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From:matt_arnold
Date:April 22nd, 2004 06:36 am (UTC)
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[begin pedant mode]This is a good question, and it's certainly linguistic, but it's not an epistemological question.[/pedantry] ;^)

There are degrees of apology. This could be considered a very small apology for a very small offense, that of distracted attention. So small, in fact, that we may wonder if it's an offense at all; and so small an apology that if the blame really lies on the speaker for mumbling, we figure we may as well not quibble.
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From:sraun
Date:April 22nd, 2004 03:09 pm (UTC)
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I have two habits - depending on who I'm talking to.

With my wife, close friends and some co-workers, I say, "I heard you say {insert perception}. What?"

With most anyone else, I say, "I'm sorry, what I heard you say was {insert perception} and I'm confused. Could you repeat it, please?"

Exact phrasing may vary - the important tone difference is that, in the second, I am claiming responsibility for my failure to accurately hear them. I always attempt to give whoever what I heard, so they can have a hint as to what the mis-communication is.
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From:shadowriderhope
Date:April 29th, 2004 10:17 am (UTC)
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Ooh, thanks for asking this. Being someone with less-than-ideal hearing (esp. in any place with background noise), I *very* often have to ask folks to repeat themselves, and I usually use the "Pardon?" or "You want me to argle murphle bleargh?" variants.

Or sometimes I'll repeat what I thought I heard: "You want me to do *what* with an artichoke?" Indeed, often what I mishear is more amusing than what I misheard.

And it bugs me that often people say "why are you apologizing" when I use the social constructs of "I'm sorry" that *don't* mean "I'm sorry, I did something bad." Like, when someone says their mother died, and I say "Oh, I'm very sorry (to hear)..." or in this case, "I'm sorry (I didn't quite catch what you said)".

Thanks for an interesting discussion. :)
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