The word apology has been around a long time. Shakespeare uses it half-a-dozen times, always with its sense of ‘formal justification or explanation’, and always in the singular. If Shakespearean characters want to apologise, in the modern sense of ‘regret’, they say such things as I cry you mercy. The OED has no examples of plural usage until quite modern times.
This suggests to me a pragmatic explanation, focussing on the ‘century of manners’. The 18th century strikes me as being the time when people might have felt one apology wasn’t enough, so they really went in for pluralizing it. So, I’m putting my money on the 18th century as the time when this usage became fashionable.
We keep upping the ante today, of course. A hundred apologies. A thousand apologies – the most popular usage, which has appeared as the title of a TV show, a music album, and more. Even a million apologies. And (especially since the economic crisis) a billion or trillion apologies.
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