When I was a kid, I used to occasionally get in fights with my brothers and sister. I said mean things and threw a punch, kick or pulled hair. After pulling us apart from each other and making us quiet down, my mom would make us apologize.
I didn’t want to apologize. I was still mad, but would sheepishly grumble, “I’m sorry if I hurt you when I hit you.”
This did not fly with my mom. She knew I wasn’t being sincere and only apologizing because I got caught and it would mean a lighter punishment.
“That’s not an apology.”
“I’m sorry for hurting and hitting you.”
That “if” made a big difference even if it was only a minute later.
I see that “if” in non-apologies all the time on blogs.
Example: blogger writes a post, uses a term that is offensive but often used in everyday talk by people who don’t know any better, or maybe just don’t care. A commenter or two point out that term is offensive. Blogger who is actually only sorry she got called out by a reader responds, “I’m sorry if I offended you. I didn’t mean to offend you or anyone else.”
An even better example, Geraldo Rivera’s non-apology regarding his statement that Trayvon Martin was partially responsible for his death because he was wearing a hoodie. Of course, Geraldo added a lot more than the typical blogger making it even harder to believe that he actually is sorry.
If you need to apologize, keep it simple and sincere. Leave the “if” out and just write, “I’m sorry I offended you.” Five simple words.