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In this email leaked by Wikileaks, Hillary Clinton asks Rothschild to:

Let me know what penance I owe you.

The only definitions I can find for the word "penance" are religious terms that imply that one has sinned and must somehow repent or make up for it to God or clergy.

What is meant by "owing penance" to another (non-clerical) human being, in this context?

Edit: Since I've gotten some downvotes for this question, I wonder if those who downvoted could help me improve it by explaining why they did so. (E.G. poorly researched, unclear, off-topic, offensive, general reference, inaccurate assumptions, etc.) Although it's not required, it's always more helpful if downvotes come coupled with constructive feedback.

  • In the skeptics question that prompted this you mentioned you were interested in whether the use of "penance" implied a "subservient tone", I think that'd be a good thing to include in this question. Certainly in British English, it would be normally, except in the context of old-fashioned upper-class letter writing where such styling was almost normal and expected even among social equals (e.g. signing letters "I remain forever your faithful servant"). It'd be interesting to see if that's also true for American "old money" society – user568458 Jul 27 '16 at 9:36
  • As Gary describes, it's plain old hyperbole, likely used in a jocular sense. If you're looking for a skeleton you're in the wrong closet. – Hot Licks Jul 27 '16 at 11:58
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    @HotLicks Why would I be looking for skeletons? I'm looking for language related explanations regarding a peculiar, rarely used, type of wording. – Revetahw Jul 27 '16 at 14:04
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    Since I've gotten some downvotes for this question, I wonder if those who downvoted could help me improve it by explaining why they did so. (E.G. poorly researched, unclear, off-topic, offensive, general reference, inaccurate assumptions, etc.) Although it's not required, it's always more helpful if downvotes come coupled with constructive feedback. – Revetahw Jul 27 '16 at 14:08
  • I think the failure to comprehend simple hyperbole is perhaps at the root of the downvotes. It tends to suggest that one does not want to understand, or is looking for a more sinister meaning. – Hot Licks Jul 27 '16 at 18:04
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The word is being used hyperbolically here.

Meaning:

"How can I make amends?"

ref: 'make amends'

You can clearly see a relationship between the word penance and the phrase "making amends" if you consider the transitive verb: -

Expiate

v.tr. To make amends or reparation for; atone for: expiate one's sins by acts of penance.

ref: Expiate

  • Sounds like a good answer, but could you provide a source for "owing penance" being used in the place of "making amends" in a non-religious context? I'm not saying your answer is wrong, I just figure you could improve its quality by providing a source. All resources I have found on the word "penance" seem to offer only religious meanings. – Revetahw Jul 27 '16 at 9:26
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    Certainly, edited above. – Gary Jul 27 '16 at 9:39
  • I meant more of an example or source for "owing penance" being used in a non-religious context. Expiate can mean both religious (as in penance) and non-religious (as in "make ammends".) But what I meant was a source for "owing penance" itself being used in a non-religious context, not another phrase being used as such. – Revetahw Jul 27 '16 at 9:44
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    No I think the connection is clear, and I don't have any more time to spend right now! Good luck in your journey though :) – Gary Jul 27 '16 at 9:44

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