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I was recently working at a Russian startup with a low median age - most of the employees were under 30. I cannot count the number of times I heard folks saying "сорьян" to each other, but I never understood the contextual nuances of the expression well enough to feel comfortable using it (nor do I find it easy as a non-native speaker to just pick up and run with neologisms).

I understand that it's a homophone of "sorry", but then there is the double entendre at the root of the word which is сор (trash). Can a native speaker please explain, what is going on with this word, why is it so popular, and how should it be understood in different contexts? The best rough translation I could come up with is "my bad".

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It's way more frequently "сорян" rather than "сорьян". There's no double entendre, pun or word play of any kind here - there's zero references to "сор" - it's just a derivative from "sorry".

As of usage, well, it's pretty obvious that any slang word differ in it's usage from it's "normal" counterpart at least in that sense, you can say it to your friend, but most likely can not say to your boss. If we want to dive deeper, I'd rather say that this is sort of "untragic" sorry. It's reserved for apologizing in situations that no one takes really seriously and any consequences of which are by no means dire or harsh, like in "Сорян, я уже сегодня пообедал, с вами не пойду".

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  • A derivative, yes, but there are connotations that сорян has that извини does not have. Why would one use the former over the latter? Just because it's trendy? Jul 2 at 1:07
  • @the_darkside fair point, updated the answer.
    – shabunc
    Jul 2 at 7:58
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Yes, it's a colloquial loanword from English sorry, and it doesn't have any connotations to Russian сор. It was formed similarly to братан (bro), дружбан (dawg), etc.

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As other answers stated, it can be spelled phonetically as "сорян" and is actually adopted "sorry" from English and is used as one.

It can be considered a part of argot or anti-language of younger generation who constantly brush with English in everyday life. As any anti-language, it is a part of informal speech. Consider it a cross-cultural influence. It got a connotation of familiarity or lack of seriousness in the situation. So it can be used only as a lighthearted "sorry": "Sorry, I could not get to your party in time, what did I miss?"

Those who use it, aren't necessary speaking English, they have just got hearing a word or two repeatedly. Common expressions, movie memes (e.g. Arnold's "I'll be back" - "Айл би бэк"), some IT or technical terms, sometimes some trope names that cannot be translated directly, are just transliterated and adjusted to Russian pronunciation.

It's not a new phenomenon, it can be compared to abuse of French language by Russian nobility and those who wanted to be "accepted" as educated person in Napoleonic era. French was butchered due to horrible pronunciation, essentially creating a new "slang".In past, since Peter I Russian language was doing that to Dutch, then to German, then to French, then to Polish and German again. Essentially, to whatever foreign language was playing significant part in culture. A lot of modern military, naval, gastronomic, architectural terms were taken this way.

This can be said about Russian as well:

“The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.” ― James D. Nicoll

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