Prose & SongCorrespondence & Poetry

Burns and Language: Sorry

Word of the Week: Sorry


The Robert Burns Word of the Week is back!

I am very sorry there hasn’t been a Word of the Week recently. The events of PhD life overtook me and for that I apologise!

On that note, apologies are as good a place as any to restart our language hunt. What does Robert Burns apologise for?

Well, famously, he apologises on behalf of mankind for “breaking nature’s social union” when talking ‘To a Mouse’. A grand philosophical statement on the nature of mankind, such as this one, remains very apt in the present with all our environmental troubles. Perhaps even more so than Burns himself had in mind!

Burns uses the word another eighteen times in the corpus searched. Mainly appearing in the letters, the word Sorry is used mostly in two distinct ways.

Firstly, Burns uses sorry as an adjective to describe pitiful individuals. He also uses it in the more common apologetic sense.

Interestingly, Burns, it would appear, describes himself as a “Sorry, poor misbegotten son of the muses” in a fragment inscribed to the Right Hon. C. J. Fox. Fox was a Whig politician that, earlier in life Burns had little time for. As he grew dissatisfied with the Tories, however, Burns begins to show approval of Fox. Perhaps this line in his poem (albeit, not one of his best) describing himself as “sorry” is his way of making amends for previous criticism of Fox.

In his letter to Robert Muir on the 20th March 1786, Burns says “I am heartily sorry I had not the pleasure of seeing you as you returned through Mauchline” and I will leave you with the same sentiment of sorry for not having seen you as you returned for another blog entry. But enough of apologies now!

Come back next week for another Robert Burns Word of the Week!

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