Brian Edwards Media

Semantics Perhaps, but Important

In a dodgy piece of journalism in yesterday’s Sunday Star Times, entitled ‘The cynical art of the cheap apology’, Jonathan Milne castigated Finance Minister Steven Joyce for his most recent defence of his claimed $11.7 billion ‘fiscal hole’ in Labour’s campaign promises.

Milne wrote: ‘Challenged to explain his discredited calculations, Joyce took the art of the cheap apology to a new low. “Well I’m sorry,” he said, “but… they’re accurate.”‘

‘And with that, New Zealand’s finance minister devalued the word “sorry” further than he or his predecessors have ever taken the New Zealand dollar.’

Now here’s the problem: when Joyce responds ‘Well I’m sorry… but they’re accurate,’ to the accusations about there being a fiscal hole in his calculations, he isn’t apologising for the calculations, he’s simply being polite. His apology is for disagreeing with the questioner or commentator.

We all do it:

‘Well I’m sorry, I don’t care what it cost, I really don’t like that hat.’

‘Well I’m sorry, you can argue till the cows come home, but I still think Edwards is an idiot.’

‘Well I’m sorry, if that’s art, I’m a Dutchman!’

In every case the ‘sorry’ indicates an apology for disagreeing with someone else’s position. It’s not a mea culpa.

Challenged to defend his calculations, Joyce’s ‘Well I’m sorry’ wasn’t an apology for those calculations, but a common way of prefacing disagreement with something said.

It scarcely deserved the headline: ‘The cynical art of the cheap apology’.

Semantics perhaps, but important.



  1. Canny bit of word play though.

  2. Of course, a cleverly-planned apology can be even more stinging than the original insult. “I’m sorry you’re upset by what I said” isn’t the same as “I’m sorry I upset you”, The reserved apology, but.

  3. Its the SST. What can you expect ?

  4. Dont care about the “Im Sorry but”its the Finance Ministers inability to accurately read figures which bothers me.

  5. Talk about dodgy journalism what about the latest poll that puts Paddy Gower in the drivers seat shifting gears so dramatically. Whether its devastating is yet to be seen.

    The one thing this election has highlighted is just how ridiculous our media is and the woefully pathetic state of journalism in this country.

  6. The Journalism might be dodgy but the people making the statements are even more so.Last night Bill English stated that only he was in the right position to judge the authenticity of the Joyce statement.Michelle Boag called Jacinda Adern Untrustworthy on National Radio yesterday ,concidering her involvement with the National Party Id say thats the Pot calling the kettle black.Lets remember that Key promised tax cuts for all and No increase in GST.The wealthy received the tax cuts and the rest of us received an increase in GST now thats untrustworty!Dodgy jounalism may irritate but the National Party has caused far more greif for me.

  7. As a teacher of Languages, I totally agree with your point, Brian. Milne is wrong and misguided. I don’t think that all the above commenters read your post carefully.