Rhetorical Anatomy Of An Apology

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Last night on Sky News a masked, and apparently deeply repentant, Boris Johnson told reporter Beth Rigby, "I repeat my deep apology for mistakes that may've been made on my watch."

Sadly, as any professional wordsmith will tell you, his form of words was a carefully considered attempt to deflect responsibility. A master class in deviousness and insincerity.

By turning his ‘apology’ into an object - i.e. a thing he repeats - Boris Johnson distanced himself from it.

The locution ‘may’ve been made’ casts doubt on the existence of the mistakes themselves by raising the possibility that they may not have occurred.

And, finally, his deliberate use of the passive voice - ‘mistakes may have been made’- rather than the active voice - ‘I made mistakes’ - deprives him of agency and thus removes his personal responsibility for those mistakes.

Thursday June 24th, 2021
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