Anger over a word: whoever says “unfortunately” is lying

The steep thesis: everyone knows it, everyone does it, and it has to stop. Because every "unfortunately" is a lie.

Unfortunately? No! Photo: imago

There are things that seem like a trifle to some, and for others the world is decided by this thing. I know people who get a bird when the toilet paper unrolls from the wrong side, when the cucumber is too close to the stinky cheese in the refrigerator or the toothpaste tube is not screwed on properly.

Everyone has a little thing where others say you shouldn’t get so involved. But you know that the others just don’t see it. They don’t know that the big questions of life are decided by this "little thing".

My trifle is actually not a thing, it is a word. It has two syllables and six letters: "unfortunately. Everyone knows this seemingly unremarkable word with which most cancellations optionally begin, end or are embellished.

Are you coming to the barbecue on Friday?

Unfortunately, I am prevented by business.

The kids have the flu, unfortunately.

I’m already at another party, unfortunately.

Admittedly, the grammar is ailing on the last sentence, but I’ve heard all three. And I bet you were suffering yourself just yesterday.

I say stop it, because "unfortunately" is a lie. A brazen, unconcealed in-your-face lie. And worst of all, everyone knows it.

When we suffer, something terrible happens. We deny our free will. Dear Uschi, unfortunately I can’t come to your wedding – is like a spelled out shoulder shrug. I pretend there is some cosmic power that prevents me from going to Uschi’s party. I imply: It’s not my fault. Lie! I just don’t want to hurt Uschi’s feelings.

Sure, because: Hey, you’re only second choice, the other option won – is authentic, but not nice. This is probably the most serious reason for a "unfortunately". We don’t want to make the other person feel mean, so we retreat to this socially coded lie.

The more advanced among us have already reached the point where they look again before sending their own message and delete the "unfortunately" after a brief hesitation. Get rid of it. Give it a try! This is what freedom tastes like.


Dropping that little lie word is an emancipatory act. I liberate myself from it regularly. Why? It is more honest. Because the truth is, sorry, dear Uschi, I’d really rather go to my sister’s wedding than to your birthday. Nix unfortunately. It’s called emotional prioritization.

Now I can already see the critics smiling smugly and saying: Yes well, sister’s wedding always wins. So let’s take another example: watching a series and eating pizza. Sometimes there are days when this is more important to me than a party, a coffee date or a Skype date. Again, "unfortunately" is a lie.

Granted – sometimes you really do feel sorry for things. But, dear people, you can say that in a different way. You just have to make more of an effort and not just limit yourself to one word.

Dear Uschi, I’m at my sister’s wedding and can’t come to your party. Too bad, I would have loved to toast with you.

Goes well, is honest, needs no "unfortunately".

There are trickier situations, I know. I’m a journalist, if Angela Merkel’s office called me and offered me an exclusive interview with our chancellor on the subject of corruption in the Bundestag and it was the same date as my sister’s wedding – nope, let’s say my girlfriend’s wedding – that would suck. But not insulting. Again, it’s honest:

Hi girlfriend, I can’t make it to your wedding. Sorry, Angie got in the way! I love you more anyway.

Two things are important here at the same time. The wedding may be more important emotionally, but … Welcome to the age of reason! A request from the boss trumps the cocktail party, a project delivery trumps the niece’s first communion. Reasonable prioritization. We just have to remember: We could do otherwise. Because we don’t have to do anything but die. And when we suffer, we deny it.


Lately, more and more people around me have stopped suffering. Although I am an ardent supporter of this development, I too still have to get used to it.

This text comes from the taz am wochenende. Always on newsstands from Saturday, in the eKiosk or in the weekend subscription. And on Facebook and Twitter.

Hey Sara, I can’t come to your party, I’m already at a wedding.

I think: ouch. And then: thank you. That’s honest and kind and even opens me up to be happy for the other person. Oh, how great, wedding. And not: stupid cow, stand me up for a stupid wedding.

An acquaintance of mine did it even better the other day. Classic situation: group chat, WhatsApp, 23 people in it, one has a birthday. One by one, acceptances flutter in, then three cancellations. All contain the word "unfortunately". One even had it twice. "Unfortunately, we can’t come, we’re already at another birthday."

I, about to get really hard into my unfortunately rage, stare at the screen, and then it goes pling. A new message. A rejection. The most honest and best one I’ve ever read: "Hello you, I can’t come to your birthday. Sorry, I’m in South Africa."

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