I'm looking for a concise way to describe this situation:

Person A compliments B's team at a competition. But B does not respond to this compliment gracefully, even though it means a lot to him. B senses that doing this has hurt A, but pride or shyness get in the way of him clearing the air with A about this for a while. When B works up what's needed to talk to A, unforeseen circumstances change B's plans and he loses touch with A. Years pass, but B continues to feel an urge to fix his mistake. B does not actively seek to fix it (aside from learning from it), but if the opportunity to do so presents itself he has told himself to take it.

One idiom I've considered is turning over a new leaf. But this phrase seems better for a personality overhaul than for repairing one mistake.

Is there a word/idiom/phrase (WIP) to describe a person who would leap if given the chance to correct a specific mistake he made?

Edit: I have received some great answers, but I've realized I have one more condition I'm looking for: I'd prefer a casual/conversational WIP. Thanks!

  • 3
    Perhaps penitent? Commented Jul 10, 2013 at 7:49
  • The pride / shyness issue is big enough to require the turning over of a new leaf. If this truly has happened (or if the original lack of response had been out of character, and he usually does strike while the iron is hot {seize his opportunity}), then B has learnt his lesson. Commented Jul 10, 2013 at 10:09
  • My bad, ElendilTheTall: The phrase I'm looking for is more casual. Good choice, though! You raise a good point, @EdwinAshworth, and I'm on the fence about what to think. B's competitiveness caused the faux pas, and he has realized he needs to keep it in check. At the same time, though, his competitiveness remains and (though not unregulated before) is under stricter control. Learnt his lesson as an idiom has the right amount of casualness I'm looking for, but it's like B's still in the middle of it, perhaps learning his lesson?
    – user39720
    Commented Jul 10, 2013 at 15:29

2 Answers 2


He wants to "atone" for past behavior

Definition of "atone" from Google


Make amends or reparation: "he was being helpful, to atone for his past mistakes".

Synonyms expiate - redeem


Another idiomatic alternative is "to make amends":

From Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary:

Make amends: compensation for a loss or injury : recompense

Origin of AMENDS

Middle English amendes, from Anglo-French, plural of amende reparation, from amender First Known Use: 14th century

Example - step 8 from the 12 steps in a 12-step program:

8. Make a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

  • 2
    Indeed; the OP's scenario even reminded me a bit of Atonement!
    – user22138
    Commented Jul 10, 2013 at 10:42
  • 1
    There are strong parallels with Atonement: A kid hurts someone he likes because of his competitiveness (although imagination arguably played a stronger role in Atonement), and regrets his actions afterward. Wanting to atone describes this scenario very well, but it's more formal than what I'm looking for. But it's a very good answer and I will accept it tomorrow pending other answers.
    – user39720
    Commented Jul 10, 2013 at 15:31
  • 1
    Thanks @dingo_dan. Another idiomatic phrase to consider is to "make amends" which I am adding to my answer. Commented Jul 10, 2013 at 15:56

Not quite sure if this is what you're looking for, but the word "repentant" is the first that comes to mind. Other possibilities for single words might be "contrite", "penitent", "rueful", "compunctious" or simply "regretful". Not really sure about phrases or idioms, though. Hope I've been at least some help!

  • Words like rueful, regretful, and remorseful have come to mind but there's a optimistically wistful side to B these words don't quite capture. Repentant does, though, but I'm looking for something a little more casual than that. (I will modify my question to say so.)
    – user39720
    Commented Jul 10, 2013 at 15:30

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