A few months ago, I was down with jaundice, and when I let my friend know about it, he sent me a text saying "Sorry about the jaundice", expressing sympathy. Like this one incident, we frequently encounter sympathy messages starting with "sorry". I am curious where did the sorry originate from? Why do they say sorry? It's not their fault that I am having a bad time. Or is it that they want to apologize on behalf of the entire mankind and nature that have played out in a way which caused the loss to an individual—in my case, caused me jaundice. Pardon me if this question is too basic for this community.
Oxford Online Dictionary has the following definition:
Feeling sad or distressed through sympathy with someone else’s misfortune: I was sorry to hear about what happened to your family
Online Etymology Dictionary states that the word was used in Old English that means:
Old English sarig "distressed, grieved, full of sorrow" (not found in the physical sense of "sore")...Apologetic sense (short for I'm sorry) is attested from 1834; phrase sorry about that popularized 1960s by U.S. TV show "Get Smart." Related: Sorrily; sorriness.
It doesn't mean someone is apologizing for anything. He is just feeling sympathy (or sorrow/pity) for what happened to you.
"I'm sorry about ..." means that "I am sad, distressed, full of sorrow to know of.."
Why do they say sorry?
Personally, I never say sorry at all - in fact I never apologise. I learnt this from a wise sailor in the mid 1970s - he owned restaurants in San Diego, and he didn't say sorry either.
It's not out of arrogance or an uncaring nature ... but if there is an issue, there are three things available to you: (1) address the problem as effectively and as efficiently as you can, (2) advise the complainant that nothing can be done to solve it ("There is no lobster available ... can I offer you something else at no charge?"), or (3) advise the complainant that while you might sympathise, it really is not your problem.
One of these three responses will resolve things - saying "sorry" makes you feel bad, it makes the recipient of the sorry feel bad, and worse, it can often be a substitute for actually finding a solution to the problem.
So my advice - avoid sorry and avoid apologies ... just solve stuff you can, and avoid stuff you cannot. "Sorry" really is a dreadfully overworked word in all Western societies.