Use of word "afraid"...

Reply Mon 21 Nov, 2016 12:03 am
Please consider these sentences:

"I'm afraid he's out walking the dog now."
"I'm afraid I don't know the answer."
"I'm afraid your books are overdue."
"I'm afraid the cookie jar is empty."

How did we come to use the word "afraid" in this context? Normally the word implies some degree of fear, but how did it come to be used for such "non-fearful" statements as being out for a walk, or a cookie jar being empty?
Reply Mon 21 Nov, 2016 12:07 am
Just guessing, but maybe the speaker thinks the one receiving the message will take it as bad news. Not that he expects anger at the disappointment, but that he regrets causing disappointment. It's usually just a minor apology in advance.

Not much of answer, but about all I can come up with.
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Reply Mon 21 Nov, 2016 04:35 am
Colloquial sense in I'm afraid "I regret to say, I suspect" (without implication of fear, as a polite introduction to a correction, admission, etc.) is first recorded 1590s.

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Reply Mon 21 Nov, 2016 10:46 am
Sounds British.

American would say, "I think he's out walking the dog. So he can't answer the phone now."

Reply Mon 21 Nov, 2016 01:06 pm
Sounds American to me. Fairly common, too.
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