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Words Mean Nothing: The Nihilist Semiotics of You're Not Sorry

The Basics

Taylor Swift tells this guy to stop calling to apologize because she doesn’t believe his apologies anymore.

Literary Device: Polysyndeton

Polysyndeton is repetition of the same conjunction. In Fifteen, Swift used polysyndeton to convey the rush of a first date. In You’re Not Sorry, Swift uses repetition of the word “and” to create a very different effect: a sense of mounting frustration.

And you got your share of secrets

And I'm tired of being last to know

And now you're asking me to listen

Cause it’s worked each time before

Swift is so frustrated that she cannot finish a sentence without thinking of another frustration to add to the list.


Taylor Swift spent a lot of time waiting for this guy to get his act together, and she wants him to know about it. She frequently refers to mistakes she made in the past in the course of the same relationship: “like I did before”, “it’s worked each time before”, and “not this time around.” She also describes a lengthy process of learning: “it’s taken me this long baby, but I’ve figured you out.” Swift opens the song with two lines that show how she experienced this passage of time: “All this time I was wasting / Hoping you would come around.” In the moment, Swift waited with “hope,” a sense of pleasant expectation. Looking back, she realizes that that time was “wasted,” barren and devoid of meaning. Hope has been replaced with nothing.

Time is not the only thing that lost meaning for Swift during this relationship: words have lost their meaning as well. Specifically, the word “sorry.” Swift relays “And you can tell me that you’re sorry / but I don’t believe you baby / Like I did before.” Swift used to believe that “sorry” indicated a sincere apology. After this man repeatedly used “sorry” to signify nothing, the meaning of the word has been emptied. Swift, a nihilist semiologist, emphasizes how words can be emptied of meaning by saying “You’re not sorry no no no (no).” Similarly, Swift writes: “And now you’re asking me to listen / Cause it’s worked each time before.” Swift used to listen, because words used to have meaning. Now his words are just sounds and Swift “won’t pick up the phone.” The meaning of his words has been replaced with nothing.

As the meaning of time and words diminish, so does Swift’s regard for this man’s appearance. In addition to his words, Swift no longer believes his face: “Looking so innocent / I might believe you if I didn’t know.” His seemingly-innocent mien has repeatedly proven false, emptying said mien of that previous meaning. Swift writes: “You used to shine so bright / But I watched all of it fade.” Swift used to be so excited about this guy that he seemed to glow. That glow has been replaced with nothing. In the final chorus, Swift states: “there’s nothing left to beg for.” Fortunately, rather than accepting a relationship that has emptied her life of meaning, Swift decides that she, too, can replace meaning with emptiness. Swift dumps this dude and replaces him with nothing.

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