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Reading and Writing Electronic Text

Generating a composite apology from my email archive.

As a woman, I’m constantly told that I apologize for too much. Friends and colleagues tell me I don’t need to say “sorry” as often as I do and in the past I’ve made a conscious effort to reverse those habits.

I’m not alone in this feeling: According to a 2010 study in the journal Psychological Science, “women have a lower threshold for what constitutes offensive behavior,” so are more likely to see a need for an apology in everyday situations. The trope is so ubiquitous that someone even developed a Chrome extension that identifies and deletes seemingly “weak” words for women as they write emails.

I’m not going to lie: I don’t entirely buy into the idea that removing the words “just” or “sorry” from the female vernacular is going to suddenly give more women credibility in the workplace. As women, we are constantly on the receiving end of advice about what constitutes strong or effective communication but as Marybeth Seiz-Brown states, this way of thinking “implies that if women just spoke like men, our ideas would be valuable. If women just spoke like men, sexist listeners would magically understand us, and we would be taken seriously. But the problem is not with feminized qualities, of speech or otherwise, the problem is that our culture pathologizes feminine traits as something to be ashamed of or apologize for.”

With this in mind, I decided to delve into my own personal archive of emails for this week’s assignment. I specifically wanted to look at emails in which I offered up some kind of apology, whether it was a late email reply, a rejection, or expression of empathy. My goal was to help myself understand the kinds of things I was apologizing for, and to who.

I created a .txt file of every email since 2011 in which I used the words “I’m sorry,” “sorry,” or “apologize.” In the command line, I broke down that huge file so that each sentence started on a new line and saved it into a new file called apology.txt.

rebeccaricks$ sed -e :1 -e 's/\([.?!]\)[[:blank:]]\{1,\}\([^[:blank:]]\)/\1\\2/;t1' <apology-all-emails.txt >apology.txt

From there, I wrote a python program that would strip each line from the text file, append the lines to a list, and then randomly pick 3 of those lines to print using the random.choice() function. To make the formatting more interesting, I used the textwrap library to give each line a maximum of 30 characters.

And here are some examples of the outcome:

Did you make it to a church?
also, sorry if it was a little
awkward this morning with JP.
I’m sorry to bother you again,
but I’m still unable to sign
into Kronos.

I’m sorry that I committed to
helping you this morning, but
I hadn’t had time to think it
through until today.
I guess you could unfollow me
if you want but I’d rather we
just talk about it 🙂
Oh no!

Sorry, I’m being totally rude.
Good luck selling it on
Craigslist.
oh no!

I’m sorry. As you can imagine,
this has been really hard for
me
I’m sorry – I should have
asked permission before using
the audio from the story.
I just need you to know who I
am.

Hey sorry my phone is dead- I
finished the camera
accessories post.
Thank you again for the
opportunity!
(sorry for the link overload)

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