Wood on Words: Sorry — an ‘apology’ isn’t what you think it is

Barry Wood

“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

If you were up and around in 1970 and had any awareness of pop culture, you surely heard that line at least once. It’s from the wildly popular film and book “Love Story.”

The screenplay was written first, but the novel appeared first and helped publicize the movie. Both were written by Erich Segal. Segal, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease for years, died of a heart attack at age 72 on Jan. 17 of this year.

While most critics detested “Love Story,” the book was the top-selling fiction title of the year and the movie was No. 1 at the box office.

Less well-known was Segal’s role in another iconic creation: He worked on the screenplay for the 1968 animated film based on the Beatles’ music, “Yellow Submarine.”

The instant celebrity from “Love Story” was unusual for a man in Segal’s line of work — a classics professor at Yale.

I was reminded of all this recently after listening to a lecture about Socrates, a man whose fame became his undoing. Socrates was an ancient Greek philosopher who was convicted of corrupting the youth of Athens with his unconventional teachings, for which he was condemned to death.

If you’ve heard of hemlock, it’s probably because of Socrates. That was the poison he drank to comply with his death sentence.

At his trial, Socrates delivered his defense, immortalized in Plato’s “Apology.” In Greek, an “apology” was “a speaking in defense,” from “apo-” for “from” and “logos” for “speech.” The latter also is the root for “logic.”

The first definition for “apology” in Webster’s is still “a formal spoken or written defense of some idea, religion, philosophy, etc.”

The more common usage nowadays is “an acknowledgment of some fault, injury, insult, etc., with an expression of regret and a plea for pardon.”

According to “The Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories,” that one dates from the mid-19th century.

So to paraphrase the “Love Story” line, before then, apology never meant saying you’re sorry.

And that brings me to the current outrage about Goldman Sachs (as in “sacks of gold, man”) and the whole Wall Street banking mess. Wouldn’t it be nice to hear a few of those folks acknowledge faults and express regrets?

This scandal has me rethinking the term “bank robbery.” Traditionally, it has applied to something done TO a bank. Now I can’t help considering it as something done BY a bank.

Of course, not all banks are the same. The Wall Street investment behemoths are a far cry from most financial institutions, not only in scale but in terms of the kinds of business they’re involved in.

I confess I don’t understand much of it, and I suspect most other people don’t, either — which just makes it easier for things to go so terribly wrong.

Sadly, one of the victims of all of these financial dealings (and probable misdealings) was my hometown's AMCORE Bank.

Somewhere along the line, someone insisted that the name AMCORE be fully capitalized.

Unfortunately, the bank itself wasn’t fully capitalized.

Contact Barry Wood at or read his blog at