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Pardon Me

A number of listeners have written in with questions about the use of “excuse” and “pardon,” so we’ll take that as our topic this week.

By
Adam Lowe,
November 5, 2007
Episode #024

A number of listeners have written in with questions about the use of “excuse” and “pardon,” so we’ll take that as our topic this week.

Strict traditionalists will tell you that you should not just say “pardon me” if you accidentally bump up against someone in a crowded space. “Pardon” is a command, and it would be rude to command someone to pardon you after you’ve committed some infraction against his or her person. The appropriate thing to say would be “I beg your pardon” or “Please excuse me” – in other words, asking for forgiveness for your terrible transgression. In modern times, I believe that we understand that when people say “pardon me” or “excuse me” they are really trying to be polite and offer an apology for something that might have been intrusive or unpleasant to another person.

There are many situations where it is polite to beg pardon, and temporally this can be before or after the offensive act. If you unintentionally push, jostle, bump or otherwise upset a person or his belongings, it is appropriate to apologize or ask for forgiveness. In such a case, it would be fine to say something as elaborate as “I’m terribly sorry, I beg your pardon,” or as simple as “so sorry” or “pardon me.” It is also reasonable to scale your response based on the situation; gently bumping someone in the airplane aisle versus spilling a glass of wine in someone’s lap probably deserve different levels of apology. It is also appropriate to beg pardon after obtrusive bodily functions, and we’ll put a link up in the transcript to a previous episode on the manners of passing gas.

You may also beg someone’s pardon or apologize for something you are just about to do. For example, if you need to leave the table in the middle of the meal, it is appropriate to say, “Please excuse me.” If you need to interrupt a conversation, you should say something like “I’m terribly sorry to interrupt,” or “Please excuse the interruption.” If you are in a theater and need to pass by seated patrons, you should say something like “Please excuse me, but may I pass by?” or simply the shorthand “Pardon me.” You may even find it easier, if not more pleasant, to get past fellow passengers in a crowded street car if you beg their pardon first.

So here’s hoping your polite efforts are always appreciated, and thank you for listening to quick and dirty tips for a more polite life.

Send your question and comments to manners@quickanddirtytips.com

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