When I was a kid and my dad would get onto me for doing something wrong, and I'd say "I'm sorry" without a trace of sincerity, he'd always respond, "I wasn't asking for a character reference."
That was my earliest introduction to the alternative meaning of the word "sorry," used not as an apology but to denote something or someone with few (or no) redeeming qualities. Since then, I've had plenty of opportunities to employ that term.
Because the truth is, there's a lot of sorryness out there, much of it pretty mundane: little league parents and helicopter parents, people who take 30 items into the "15 items or less" lane and people who don't "keep moving" at an intersection even when the sign clearly says they should. We're probably all guilty of that sort of sorry behavior from time to time.
Then there's the next level of sorryness, to which only the truly great can aspire: John Edwards, Bernie Madoff, the Octomom, Simon Crowell.
But at the very nadir of sorryness, I believe there are only two types of people.
The first is those who get into fist fights with their children's teachers and coaches. We've had a couple of examples of that here in the metro area recently, including a woman who attacked her daughter's teacher last April because the daughter was failing the teacher's class. The daughter joined in as well, leading us to conclude that the mother's own failings were even more profound.
Then there was the Mableton man who last month was sentenced to five years in prison for punching his son's high school football coach. Seems the coach had been making the boy run laps for -- oh, I don't know -- being sorry, maybe?
Hey, we've all gotten angry at one time or another over the way our children are treated. But how sorry do you have to be to resort to physical violence? I think your self-esteem would have to be lower than members of Congress in the latest approval polls.
The second group of people occupying the basement level of sorryness is those who don't use their real names when they send nasty e-mails or write ugly things in chat rooms. These people are cowards, of course, but they're also something more insidious: they're petty, malicious instigators of the sort usually found on elementary school playgrounds. They can say anything they want, about anyone they want, without a shred of evidence and with no fear of reprisal.
I believe if Dante were writing "The Inferno" today, he'd reserve a special place in hell for these people -- after which they'd no doubt go to www.divinecomedy.com/chat and leave their vicious comments, anonymously of course.
By the way, if anything I've said in this column offends you, then I apologize. On the other hand, maybe I'm not the one who's sorry.
Rob Jenkins is associate professor of English and director of The Writers Institute at Georgia Perimeter College. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.