I'm semantics obsessed. I guess it makes sense, given the line of work that I'm in. One of my goals as a word worker is to eliminate or avoid phrases that have little or no meaning. I was mulling this one today and yesterday: "That is not who I am." This phrase is often used as pseudo apology.
Don't worry. This post isn't about to nosedive down the rabbit hole of grammar. Let's get the obvious out of the way. The phrase makes no literal sense. Moving along.
What bugs me most about "That is not who I am" is its weak-kneed attempt to create distance between a wrong and the person who committed it. When I hear this phrase, I hear myself at age 6 trying to lay the blame for the missing batteries in the remote control on my sister: "I didn't do it. Kate did." The person who took the batteries, mom and dad, that's not who I am.
It's a linguistic dodge cultivated in a PR cubicle farm under ultra-violet light. As such, you will often hear this phrase spill from the mouths of public officials, professional athletes and Hollywood stars who are caught on the wrong side of the law or morality. We hear them utter it. We accept it at face value.
But what are they really saying? We all screw up royally. The best we can do is own it -- not disavow it -- and move on.