I have a sentence:

No, Sir, for my sins, I am not a regular church-goer.

What does "for my sins" mean in this case? The phrase is from a book but not published yet and I am translating it to Czech.

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    Is this phrase taken from a book, by chance? If so, could you please provide its title. – Mari-Lou A Aug 24 '14 at 7:39
  • Yes the phrase is from a book but not published yet and I am translating it to Czech. – Zora Šíchová Aug 24 '14 at 10:59
  • Hey Zora -- the example you gave was utterly incorrect. I removed it and put in an actual example. – Fattie Aug 24 '14 at 11:09
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    @JoeBlow You can't do that! The example is not something the OP invented herself, it's in the original text. Read the comment above yours. – Mari-Lou A Aug 24 '14 at 12:40
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    With no further context given, it's impossible to know exactly what was meant. It is definitely an unusual use of the expression. I would be tempted to read it as meaning “No, Sir—much to my shame, I am not a regular church-goer”, if that fits with the rest of the conversation. If it doesn't, then it's just an odd usage of the expression. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 24 '14 at 13:13

It is an idiomatic expression, For my sins: (British & Australian humorous)

  • something that you say in order to make a joke that something you have to do or something that you are is a punishment for being bad.

    • I'm organizing the office Christmas party this year for my sins. I'm an Arsenal supporter for my sins.

Source: Cambridge Idioms Dictionary.

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  • I hadn't realised it was especially British. I suppose it is the self-deprecation, which a 'gentleman' is supposed to possess. – WS2 Aug 24 '14 at 7:11
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    I think it is mainly humorous in this case. For my sins( because I am too bad) I am not a regular church-goer. :)) – user66974 Aug 24 '14 at 7:15
  • Yes, it's a fresh take on the saying. This is another case of the freedom of expression available (within sensible limits) in the English language. The fact that the meaning / 'correctness' of this particular usage are being discussed here strongly suggests that it is not a normal or even transparent usage, but I for one would not label it 'incorrect'. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 24 '14 at 7:50
  • @EdwinAshworth Point taken. See my edited version. – WS2 Aug 24 '14 at 8:01
  • It's often used ironically as well, in a formula like this: "Professor, you were recently appointed to the Regius Chair for International Relations..." "For my sins." It sort of combines the concepts of desert and deprecation in one phrase. – bye Aug 24 '14 at 9:46

Definitely British/Commonwealth; I have never heard or read the phrase in an American context (negative evidence, I know, but what are you gonna to do?) I have only read it in a British author, never heard it actually said, either. P.E.: ‘Joseph Hoggett, of the Pork Packers, as it happens. Captain, for my sins.’1 Definitely self-deprecatory, often a way of defusing a potentially rancorous situation, and implying that if the speaker hadn't taken some sort of action they wouldn't be in the position they're referring to, as in "no good deed goes unpunished". I agree that the example originally cited is not a common usage, but is possible tongue-in-cheek because it's both literal and figurative.

1 Pratchett, Terry. Unseen Academicals: A Novel of Discworld (p. 470). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

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For my sins is a self-deprecatory idiom.

But the Op's example is a radical use of the expression.

It would be more typical to say 'For my sins I got two parking tickets in a week'. This would imply that it was one's sins that had caused the two tickets'. Or even better would be the example @Josh61 gives 'for my sins I'm an Arsenal supporter', if Arsenal are going through a bald patch.

But 'going to church'is something one chooses to do. It seems an ironical twist to me.

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  • "it sounds to me an incorrect use"??? Incorrect use is an idiomatic expression without much precision. If ancestral speakers of the English language had not indulged in any supposed incorrect use, then the creole that it once was, would never have evolved into the respectable English language we use today. – Blessed Geek Aug 24 '14 at 7:52
  • @BlessedGeek Point taken. I have changed incorrect to 'radical'. – WS2 Aug 24 '14 at 7:59
  • What are you guys talkin' about? The sentence in question was so silly I just edited it out. – Fattie Aug 24 '14 at 11:12
  • But isn't Zora translating a book with that "so silly" sentence in it? – GEdgar Aug 24 '14 at 12:27

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