IT'S a feature of our public life, and our private lives too. The pseudo-apology might be the ultimate slipperiness, indicating a person who is congenitally unable to admit a wrong, but knows they are supposed to.
Our Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack - whose name I keep forgetting - did it just recently, after his comment that Pacific nations did not need dry land under their feet as they "could always come here and pick our fruit".
It takes a rare talent to combine racism, privilege and climate denialism in one sentence, but he pulled it off.
Chastened by a firestorm of outrage, he told reporters: "Well, look, if any insult was taken, I sincerely apologise."
It's a word trick you come across almost every day.
It owns up to nothing except the sensitivity of the "snowflakes" who were so easily offended.
The problem is, you can't apologise for someone else's feelings.
An apology can only be about your own behaviour. or it's no apology at all.
The all-time prize for this went to a famous footballer, who I won't name because hopefully he is now now a much better man.
After an all-night drinking session, he staggered out of a night club, blinking in the sunlight, and grabbed the breast of a young woman heading for work. He slurred something along the lines of "not much there" and left her speechless and in tears.
Charged and convicted, he told the press: "I am sorry if I offended her."
The entire female world rose up and exhaled one word "If...?"
Next time someone apologises to you, here's what to look for.
It helps if they mention their own behaviour, and that anyone would be hurt or offended by it.
And that they make a clear plan to change. "I am sorry if I upset you" is halfway there.
If you have a husband, wife, colleague or soon-not-to -be friend who talks like this, put them on probation.
The correct form is "When I completely forgot what I had promised to do, it would have upset anyone. I was being thoughtless and wrong, and I am really sorry. And here's how I will be different in future."
In human attachment, this is called rupture and repair. We all make mistakes, it's the fixing that is the proof of our ability to learn and grow. I'd go so far as to say that the very strength of our relationships is based on the scar tissue of having got things wrong, and shown that we can learn and grow.
In human attachment, this is called rupture and repair. We all make mistakes, it's the fixing that is the proof of our ability to learn and grow.
I'd go so far as to say that the very strength of our relationships is based on the scar tissue of having got things wrong, and shown that we can learn and grow.
Humans come equipped with a suite of wonderful emotions, to suite almost every occasion. We have an especially useful one called shame.
Shame happens when we have broken the weave of social fabric around us. In personal life, when we have endangered a loving relationship by our stupidity, ignorance or self obsession.
Shame, showing on our face, in our body language, and most importantly in our words, sends a signal that they matter to us, that we know we are at fault, and that we are burning with a strong wish to make amends. It bodes well.
Without genuine shame, there is rarely any genuine change.
A father I know, whose teenage daughter was on the brink of a trashed life as a result of huge parental neglect, came good at the last moment and began to spend more time with her.
She confronted him with a list of the times he had let her down, going right back to primary school concerts missed, appointments forgotten.
He felt a huge urge to defend himself angrily, but he didn't do that.
He stood in shame, and spoke from that place.
You are right, the father said. I haven't been the father you needed me to be, for a very long time. I would do anything to change that.
The two of them have been getting on well lately.
It was a real apology, followed by real change.
It's not rocket science. It is the foundation of all human trust.
Steve Biddulph is author of 10 Things Girls Need Most; Raising Girls, Raising Boys; Complete Secrets of Happy Children; and The New Manhood.