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?
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.
American would say, "I think he's out walking the dog. So he can't answer the phone now."
Sounds American to me. Fairly common, too.