I beg your pardon

Packard

Senior Member
USA, English
Context:

I listened to a novel partially set in Cuba before 2007. Raúl Castro was at that time the head of the DGI (secret police). A police officer was brought before Castro and interrogated. During the interrogation the police officer questioned something that Castro said and Castro took offence (and you did not want the head of the DGI angry with you).

The police officer offered an abject apology by saying, "I beg your pardon". Which Castro accepted.

Question:

Almost universally when I have heard "I beg your pardon" it has been a confrontation statement in objection to something the other person had said. I cannot recall hearing "I beg your pardon" being used as an apology.

Is this typical of your experience?
 
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  • The Newt

    Senior Member
    English - US
    [...]

    Almost universally when I have heard "I beg your pardon" it has been a confrontation statement in objection to something the other person had said. I cannot recall hearing "I beg your pardon" being used as an apology.

    Is this typical of your experience?
    At least in the US I think it would be uncommon to hear "I beg your pardon" as a true apology today. It's often (or was often) used to indicate that you didn't understand what the speaker has just said and that you'd like to have it repeated, and of course, it also serves to express taking indignant exception to something.
     

    Angela Thomas

    Senior Member
    English -- USA
    Hi,
    I've used it in all three meanings all my life and still do. Disclosure: am old! I grew up in Australia and learned the Queen's English, it was normal, not so much in the U.S. Haven't heard it used here in years, I don't think.
    I'll be curious to hear what the younger folks say, especially those in other English speaking countries.
     

    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    I might apologise to the Queen, I suppose, asking for the royal pardon, but otherwise my experience is as the OP mentions, to express outrage at what's been said, for example.
    I doubt if I've ever said it in my life, instead of the usual formulae.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    [...] It's often (or was often) used to indicate that you didn't understand what the speaker has just said and that you'd like to have it repeated, [...].
    I quite overlooked that usage, and I have used it in that context regularly.
     

    You little ripper!

    Senior Member
    Australian English
    My experience is like that of Angela's. It's still used here as an apology even today, usually by someone over 50. When I hear it I'm reminded of the song by Lynn Anderson, I Beg Your Pardon, I Never Promised You A Rose Garden. :)
     

    Angela Thomas

    Senior Member
    English -- USA
    I also use "beg-pardon."
    4th use: a lesser apology, i.e., "sorry", especially when stepping on a toe or bumping into someone.
    Quite a versatile little phrase, I'm rather sad to see it's on the way to extinction.
     

    You little ripper!

    Senior Member
    Australian English
    Interestingly, The Free Dictionary has the apology meaning as the first entry.

    1. I apologize for what I just did or said. Oh, I beg your pardon. I wasn't looking where I was going.
    2. What did you just say? Could you please repeat that? I beg your pardon, I couldn't quite hear you.
    3. An expression or exclamation of indignation or incredulous disbelief. A: "I'm afraid we're going to have to cut your funding, effective immediately." B: "I beg your pardon? Who on earth decided that?"
    4. Could you please give me your attention. I beg your pardon, everyone, but I'd like to get tonight's proceedings underway.
    5. I believe you are mistaken or incorrect; I beg to differ; I don't agree with you on that. I beg your pardon, but I believe you'll find that our school is actually one of the best in the state.
     

    GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    I'm surprised by your question, Mr. P., because I believe you and I speak much the same kind of northeastern American English, and I have heard, and used, "I beg your pardon" as an apology for my entire life. I would be most likely to use it if I unintentionally did something that seemed careless or rude, or caused someone inconvenience or embarrassment. For example, if I were going into a theater seat and stepped full on someone's foot, that would call for "I beg your pardon!" instead of just "Sorry." Likewise, if I were on the phone at work talking to someone I thought was Ms. X, and instead it turns out it was really her sister Ms. Y, and I have spent five minutes confusing the two of us thoroughly, I would say "I beg your pardon, I thought you were X -- I apologize for the confusion."
     

    Linkway

    Senior Member
    British English
    I guess that Castro and the police officer were both speaking Spanish, not English.

    So it seems reasonable to suppose there may have been a translation issue.

    The Spanish equivalent of "I beg your forgiveness" uses the Spanish word for pardon (noun) or excuse (verb).
     

    Retired-teacher

    Senior Member
    British English
    In Britain, I think tone of voice completely changes the meaning of this phrase. Said indignantly, it means annoyance. Said on a rising tone, it is questioning what another person has spoken. Said in an apologetic way, usually by an older person, then it is just that, an apology. However, when used this way it would normally be followed by explanation of why the person has to make the apology. If not, then it could have been said in a sarcastic way, meaning that they are not really apologetic.

    Having said that, "I'm sorry" is almost universally used today instead and I would never expect a young person to use the original phrase.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I'm surprised by your question, Mr. P., because I believe you and I speak much the same kind of northeastern American English, and I have heard, and used, "I beg your pardon" as an apology for my entire life. I would be most likely to use it if I unintentionally did something that seemed careless or rude, or caused someone inconvenience or embarrassment. For example, if I were going into a theater seat and stepped full on someone's foot, that would call for "I beg your pardon!" instead of just "Sorry." Likewise, if I were on the phone at work talking to someone I thought was Ms. X, and instead it turns out it was really her sister Ms. Y, and I have spent five minutes confusing the two of us thoroughly, I would say "I beg your pardon, I thought you were X -- I apologize for the confusion."
    Yes, for minor infractions, sure. But to beg for forgiveness where if it is not given you life might end? I don't think so.

    If I accidentally bump into someone on line I would normally say "sorry" but I would not be too surprised if someone said "beg your pardon" or just "pardon". But for seeking serious forgiveness? Never.

    You just cheated on your wife and she caught you in bed with the other woman. The other woman has left. Do you say, "I beg your pardon?" I don't think so.
     

    GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    Yes, for minor infractions, sure. But to beg for forgiveness where if it is not given you life might end? I don't think so.

    If I accidentally bump into someone on line I would normally say "sorry" but I would not be too surprised if someone said "beg your pardon" or just "pardon". But for seeking serious forgiveness? Never.

    You just cheated on your wife and she caught you in bed with the other woman. The other woman has left. Do you say, "I beg your pardon?" I don't think so.

    True -- but keep in mind the original Cuban conversation would certainly not have been in English. I suspect that the original Spanish words may have the sense of begging for forgiveness rather than merely requesting it, and the seeking of a pardon, and the translation is overly literal. This then produced an incongruous effect because of the way we normally use the set phrase.
     

    Angela Thomas

    Senior Member
    English -- USA
    I too can't see using the phrase for a serious infraction especially of an extremely emotional nature. It's not for when you're really sorry and asking for forgiveness. Not in my experience anyway.
    I use it in more formal situations, i.e., with virtual strangers, except for 5) I beg to differ and maybe 3) indignation/disbelief. But since I've been Americanized, I'm more likely to say, You've got to be kidding or Are you serious. Didn't Elaine on Seinfeld made the phrase "Get out" famous meaning the same thing for disbelief?
    I forgot all about 4. Could you please give me your attention. I think I remember using it when approaching a stranger to ask directions or something like that. But I've been using "excuse me" instead for many decades now.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I am wondering, since the author is Irish (and calls cops "peelers" even when not in Ireland), and there is little to suggest he is fluent in Spanish, if this is something particular to Ireland?
     
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