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Normally ごめんなさい is translated as sorry or excuse me, but that seems like a translation for non-native speakers. In the same way, しつれいします can also be translated as excuse me or pardon me. But it really means "I'm being rude". So... what does ごめん really mean?

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Do you mean the "dictionary" meaning or the "sense" meaning? I think a good translation would be "sry" or "soz", like when we bump into people. – Pacerier May 28 '12 at 13:24
Perhaps not very helpful, but similarly すむ (as in すみません or すまなかった) could be translated as "to be at ease".. Interesting way of apologizing. I don't know if a listing of these words/"phrases" in a question would be a too open ended question, but it would be interesting. – gibbon May 28 '12 at 13:28
up vote 17 down vote accepted

めん(免) in ごめん(御免) means 'forgiveness/to forgive', like in the verb '免ずる/免じる' (which I think is the literary or archaic form of '許す'). なさい makes it imperative, so ご免なさい literally means 'Please forgive (me)', like 免じてください/許してください.

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I would just like to add that adding ご in front of the word makes that word more formal (similiar with the お in お名前, etc), So literally, ごめんなさい could mean: I humbly ask for your forgiveness – Keale Jan 8 at 5:20

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