Words Matter: Unfortunate Edition

There’s a word I hate hearing. It’s a word that others often use to explain away poor behavior, harsh company policies, or an unlikable decision.

A pair of dice displaying sixes.

This word has been twisted from the primary meaning. This word makes me cringe every time I hear or read it. It instantly makes it more difficult for me to accept what is being communicated to me.

What is this word that makes me cringe?


Let’s break it down:


Not fortunate. Straightforward. But what does fortunate actually mean?

Quote: fortunate adjective for·​tu·​nate | \ ˈfȯrch-nət  , ˈfȯr-chə-\ Definition of fortunate 1 : bringing some good thing not foreseen as certain : AUSPICIOUS made a fortunate investment 2 : receiving some unexpected good How fortunate we are to get such a nice room!

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to show up on time.

At the least saying something is unfortunate is shifting blame, but onto whom? Mistress Luck? This is a cop out, pure and simple.

We’d love to help, but unfortunately the company policy had no exceptions.

Often saying something is unfortunate as a customer service representative is inane and unsympathetic. When a customer is asking for help it is not some “unexpected good” or uncertain, unforeseen benefit the are seeking. It’s a visible problem and the customer often knows exactly what they need for the issue to be resolved.

It seems to me the representative doubts the company when they call a company line unfortunate, or the individual isn’t empowered. It makes me want to talk to the next person up the line.

Unfortunately we won‘t be able to attend as we have other plans.

Finally, my reaction to unfortunate is that it doesn’t help the speaker’s case. It isn’t what truly needs to be communicated. When people say something is unfortunate it doesn’t often seem to reflect what they mean.

Two fortune cookies and a fortune reading, No one is happy who does not think himself so.

Need to explain your actions?

This happened. It was outside of my control and unexpected. I apologize for the inconvenience. I appreciate your patience and I’ll plan better next time.

Your hands are tied?

I completely understand your complaint. It’s valid, and will be considered going forward. At this time we are unable to make exceptions. We appreciate your business and here’s what we are able to do.

You made a decision I won’t like?

I’m sorry we can’t come. I really am the invitation and wish we didn’t have prior engagements. Perhaps we could get together some other time.

End of rant. Are there any words that make you cringe? Tell me!

Instead of something funny as my post script , I’m going to share with you one of my favorite poems (or at least the beginning of it):

Dirt path between trees.

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road, 

Healthy, free, the world before me, 

The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose. 

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune, 

Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing, 

Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms, 

Strong and content I travel the open road. 

Click here the rest of Walt Whitman’s poem, Song of the Open Road.

0 Replies to “Words Matter: Unfortunate Edition”

  1. Good point! Sometimes we use imprecise language to distance ourselves from conflict, but it ends up making people feel isolated and their concerns unheard. This reminds me of the French equivalent, “C’est pas possible,” which mean’s it’s not possible. Well yes it is! You just won’t do it! Haha

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting. 🙂

      That reminds me of an article I read that suggested using “its not possible” to get out of things with no argument. It feels rude. I mean, it’s often easy to tell if something is possible!

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